A C$576 million (US$444 million) package of natural gas pipeline capacity additions has come together in northern British Columbia, to carry increasing production from the Montney Shale region.

Westcoast Energy Inc. (Spectra) obtained approval from the National Energy Board (NEB) for projects called High Pine and Jackfish Lake. The package includes 75 kilometers (45 miles) of pipe 36- 42-inch diameter pipeline and two compressors, with initial combined capacity for 380 MMcf/d.

The NEB ruled that TransCanada Corp.’s western supply collection grid, Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. (NGTL), had no right to object because the new Westcoast capacity will carry “incremental” production rather than undercut traffic on its rival.

The decision was accelerated by withdrawal of objections from two directly affected northern BC First Nations: West Moberly and Saulteau. The native communities said they reached agreements with Westcoast but did not disclose the terms.

As loops or facilities additions within established pipeline rights-of-way, the Westcoast projects also save time by being exempted from formal reviews before the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).

Although exports to the United States are shrinking and BC liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal projects have stalled, domestic demand remains strong in Western Canada, led by growing fuel consumption at expanding Alberta thermal oilsands developments.

As the NEB completed the BC shale gas transmission approvals, in Winnipeg the 2016 annual meeting of federal and provincial energy ministers agreed that pipelines still have a role in Canada’s version of the “transition” to a cleaner global society.

The conference communique said, “Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to bring Canada’s natural resources to domestic and international markets as a key element in supporting long-term job creation and economic growth while strengthening access to energy.”

The meeting also endorsed overhauls and facelifts that are under way for the NEB, CEAA and the primary provincial authority in the field, the Alberta Energy Regulator. The national conference communique said, “The ministers agreed on the importance of strengthening public confidence in the natural resource sectors through enhanced community engagement, science and evidence-based decision-making, robust regulatory frameworks and improving environmental performance, including oversight and safety of Canada’s pipeline safety regimes.”

Canadian governments are committed to working toward a collaborative climate change policy, starting with a higher-level “first-ministers” conference of the national prime minister and the provincial premiers scheduled for this fall. The program is expected to include carbon taxes and refinements of the regulatory regime to take into account shared jurisdiction over natural resource development.