As it prepares to begin commercial operations later this month, El Paso Corp.’s Ruby Pipeline holds a narrow initial market in the West centered on Northern California. Markets in the Pacific Northwest and Southern California remain virtually untapped, according to sources in those regions.

There are no shippers north of Malin, OR, at the far southernmost interstate pipeline hub in Oregon currently signed up for some of Ruby’s ultimate 1.5 Bcf/d capacity, said Dan Kirschner, executive director of the Northwest Gas Association, none of whose members currently has bought any space on Ruby. A spokesperson for Sempra Energy’s Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) unit echoed the Kirschner assessment, although noting that the large gas-only utility does not have any way of determining if some of its largest customers have signed up for Ruby.

“Long term, we don’t expect Ruby to have much impact on Southern California directly,” the SoCalGas spokesperson told NGI earlier this month. But given the fact that Ruby does give Northern California an additional outlet for reaching Rockies supplies, “some of that additional gas may push down through the Pacific Gas and Electric [PG&E] system, increasing our deliveries from the north, assuming it would be economical.”

El Paso’s Ruby Pipeline LLC project website lists all its contracts, with 10 kicking in when the pipeline operations begin or before the end of this year. Those 10 deals add up to less than 1Bcf/d (885 MMcf/d), with PG&E, and Anadarko Energy Services Co. accounting for more than half (575 MMcf/d). Most of the contracts are for 10-year durations, except PG&E, which has a three-month initial deal, followed by a 15-year contract that kicks in Nov. 1.

“I think everyone is looking at the end of July for the start-up, but they don’t have any Northwest customers, nothing [contracts or shippers] north of Malin,” Kirschner said. “The challenge is to figure out a way to move gas north on the [TransCanada] GTN pipeline. Currently gas does not flow north on the GTN [Gas Transmission Northwest] pipeline.

“I do know that GTN is working very hard to come up with some solutions that shippers north of Malin would like, and I am sure Ruby would love to see some of that, too. My ears will perk up when we start getting some Northwest shippers, so right now I am not very familiar with who has signed up on Ruby.”

Kirschner said Ruby marketers and some of his members in the Northwest Gas Association are in ongoing discussions. “I think there is a lot of cooperation ongoing trying to figure out how to let our members access some of that flexibility [that Ruby might offer], but the challenge from here — and I am not sure it is unique to the Northwest — is that we are just looking at a flat demand curve, projecting 10% less demand 10 years out than we were projecting just three years ago as an example.”

No real growth in industrial load is expected, but there could be some growth in gas-fired electric generation because of the continuing increase in reliance on intermittent wind-generated power, Kirschner said. “A lot of what people are looking at up here are gas-fired peaking units to help offset the wind when it doesn’t blow.”

Generally, through a combination of factors, including the lingering economic recession, the Northwest doesn’t need additional gas capacity right now, so potential shippers have the luxury of holding off in signing on with a new source, such as Ruby, said Kirschner, adding that Ruby was really built with the PG&E/Northern California market in mind.

“Everything else is really gravy,” he said. “They need more than just that [Northern California] market to make it a great [pipeline] project, but it is going to be a little while before they get more [shippers].”

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