Cablegate: Signs of Life for Northern Canadian Gas Through The


DE RUEHGA #0038/01 0472351
R 162348Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Signs of Life for Northern Canadian Gas Through the
Mackenzie Pipeline

1. Summary: The contents of a long-delayed regulatory report on
the proposed Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline has brought some
optimism back to project proponents. The pipeline would bring 1.2
billion cubic feet (bcf) of northern Canadian gas per day from the
Northwest Territories' Mackenzie Valley to Alberta and on to North
American markets. The project has been postponed for three decades
pending settlement of aboriginal land claims and development of a
Joint Review Panel (JRP) report examining the potential
environmental, socio-economic and cultural effects of the project.
Finally issued in December 2009, the JRP report was positively
received by project proponents, including ExxonMobil and
ConocoPhillips. As Canada's National Energy Board prepares to
launch in April its six-month regulatory review, the spotlight is
on negotiations with Ottawa for federal fiscal support, without
which proponents say the project cannot move forward. While the
companies will not make a final investment decision until all
regulatory hurdles are cleared and economic analyses completed,
they argue that the North American market needs gas from the
Mackenzie pipeline to complement the shale gas coming on line. End

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Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Proposal - Decades in the Making

--------------------------------------------- -------------

2. A Mackenzie Valley pipeline was first proposed more than forty
years ago, but was shelved after the federal government accepted a
1977 report, released by Justice Thomas Berger, recommending that a
pipeline be postponed for ten years until aboriginal land claims
had been settled.

3. In October 2004, Calgary-based Imperial Oil (70% owned by
ExxonMobil), the lead partner in the proposal, finally filed its
application to build the 1,200 km pipeline with an initial capacity
to transport 1.2 bcf of gas per day. The pipeline would run from
Inuvik, Northwest Territories (NWT), along the Mackenzie River
valley to a point just inside the Alberta border where it would
interconnect with TransCanada Pipeline's Alberta system providing
access to North American markets. A separate natural gas liquids
pipeline would transport up to 4,000 cubic meters per day of
natural gas liquids from Inuvik to Norman Wells, NWT where it would
join an existing oil pipeline to southern markets.

4. In addition to Imperial, project partners include the Mackenzie
Valley Aboriginal Pipeline Group, ConocoPhillips Canada, Shell
Canada and ExxonMobil Canada. The companies have interests in the
three anchor fields: Taglu (Imperial); Parsons Lake (ConocoPhillips
and ExxonMobil); and Niglintgak (Shell). The anchor fields
initially would produce a total of 823 million cubic feet (mmcf)
per day.

--------------------------------------------- -----------

Long-Awaited Initial Regulatory Report Finally Completed

--------------------------------------------- -----------

5. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to the project turned out to
be the Joint Review Panel (JRP), a board of seven independent
members appointed in August 2004 by then-federal Environment
Minister Stephane Dion. Intended to combine aboriginal and federal
regulators with oversight over the pipeline route, the JRP took on
a life of its own. Unrestricted by deadlines, members repeatedly
postponed their report, eventually issued in December 2009. The
cost of their work was reportedly more than $18 million (cdn).

6. The panel examined the potential environmental, socio-economic
and cultural effects of the project and concluded that, provided
its 176 recommendations are fully implemented, the adverse impacts
of the project and associated northwest Alberta facilities "would
not likely be significant" and the project and those facilities
"would likely make a positive contribution towards a sustainable
northern future."


Report Contains "Nothing Insurmountable"


7. Project proponents welcomed the report's conclusion that the
project should move forward along the lines of project description

and original routing filed in Imperial's application.
Representatives of Imperial Oil and the Aboriginal Pipeline Group
characterized the recommendations as "nothing insurmountable" and
something they "could absolutely work with." Proponents were
required to submit by late January comments on the report to the
National Energy Board (NEB) - the lead federal regulator - and
those comments largely focused on procedural issues.


Next Steps Culminating in Final Decision


8. The NEB has set dates of April 12-25, 2010 to hear final
arguments on applications to construct the pipeline and related
facilities. During the final argument phase, applicants or
intervenors in the NEB hearing process will have the chance to make
their case to the NEB either for or against the project. Final
arguments must be based on evidence that has already been presented
to the NEB relating to the engineering, safety and economic aspects
of the project. The NEB plans to release its final decision in
September - just under six years after the project application was

9. Meanwhile, negotiations with the federal government for fiscal
terms that started under the previous Liberal government have moved
slowly and are cloaked in secrecy. The companies say costs for the
pipeline have soared from $7 billion to $16.2 billion (cdn) during
the six-year review process. Company representatives tell us that
they have targeted federal support in the "hundreds of millions of
dollars" in some combination of loan or other fiscal guarantees
that lower the cost of capital; funding for infrastructure
development; and some assurances aimed at offsetting regulatory
uncertainty (e.g., compensation if regulatory approval is denied).

10. Before the NEB launches final arguments in April, the project
proponents hope the federal government will pledge sufficient
government assistance to get them through the regulatory and
project cost development phase - approximately three years at a
cost of around $400 million dollars (cdn). A definitive investment
decision in 2013 will depend on final micro and macro economic
analyses, the real and projected costs of inputs such as steel and
labor, projected gas demand and prices, and the amount of
government support going forward. If the project proceeds,
construction would stretch over four winter building cycles.


But Do We Need More Gas?


11. Project proponents tell us they are convinced that natural gas
from both the Mackenzie pipeline as well as the proposed Alaska
North Slope pipeline is necessary over the next 25-40 years to
compensate for declining conventional gas production, even
considering significant amounts of North American shale gas coming
on line. They enumerate the benefits of the proposed project to
the Northwest Territories and Canada in terms of employment,
training, economic development, and consolidation of what many
refer to as Canadian sovereignty over the north. They also point
out that the Joint Review Panel recommended that the government
engage with industry in a revenue-sharing agreement. One of the
interested companies told us they are encouraging supportive
Aboriginal leaders to voice publicly the importance of resource
development to their communities' interests and the need for
government support for this project.




12. Over the past eighteen months, many Canadian forecasters had
ceased factoring in possible shipments through the Mackenzie
pipeline due to the repeated delays in issuance of the Joint Review
Panel report, low natural gas prices, and increasing unconventional
North American gas supply. Given the largely positive nature of
the JRP report, project proposals are now expressing cautious
optimism (although some analysts still question the need for
Northern gas at this time). As portrayed by industry, the clincher
will be the willingness of the federal government to provide fiscal
and regulatory assurances - a tough sell in the current budgetary
environment. If the project goes forward and runs smoothly (which

the project's history shows is no sure thing), first gas could be
seen as early as 2017.

© Scoop Media

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