Shifting Canadian natural gas supplies and the discovery of vast shale plays in Western Canada gave birth to NOVA Gas Transmission Ltd.’s (NGTL) plans to construct and operate the 48-mile Alberta-to-British Columbia Groundbirch Pipeline, which the National Energy Board (NEB) approved late last week.

The proposed pipeline is the first NGTL pipeline facility application submitted to the NEB for its consideration. In addition, the project would also be Canada’s first federally regulated facility approved for the transportation of shale gas from Western Canada.

The TransCanada subsidiary said Groundbirch is a proposed extension of the existing TransCanada Alberta System to connect sweet natural gas supply mainly from the Montney Formation located in northeast British Columbia, one of two BC unconventional and shale gas development areas. The pipeline would extend from a new interconnection on the Gordondale Lateral near the downstream side of the existing Gordondale Meter Station on the Alberta System, approximately 7 miles east of Bay Tree, AB to a meter station in the Groundbirch area in northeast British Columbia, approximately 23 miles northwest of Dawson Creek.

Announced in December 2008, the approximately $200 million pipeline would transport about 1.1 Bcf/d as TransCanada’s first BC extension (see NGI, Dec. 15, 2008). Plans to combine northern Alberta and British Columbia into a natural gas common market are coming together thanks to simultaneous regulatory and industry decisions last year. The NEB opened the door to the combination by handing down a historic ruling a year ago that transferred to its jurisdiction TransCanada’s half-century-old Nova grid in Alberta (see NGI, March 2, 2009). The switch, which ends a tradition of fiercely defended exclusive control by Alberta, enables TransCanada to build Nova extensions across the provincial boundary into British Colombia.

The NEB approval to proceed with this project includes nearly 30 conditions, all of which must be met before NGTL can be granted permission to open the pipeline. The conditions target pipeline integrity and the protection of the environment and include public and aboriginal consultation. With respect to aboriginal matters — the line runs through or near Duncan’s First Nation and the Horse Lake First Nation lands — and landowner concerns (South Peace Landowners Association), NGTL is required to submit an update on consultation activities.

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