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Spectra, BG make big pipeline bet in the race to B.C.’s coast

Conceptual Route of Proposed Spectra Energy and BG Group new natural gas transportation system from Northeast British Columbia to Prince Rupert, on British Columbia's northwest coast.

CNW/Spectra Energy

Spectra Energy Corp. and BG Group PLC are proposing a new pipeline megaproject to carry natural gas to the British Columbia coast for export to Asian markets, making it the largest bet yet that the province's energy riches will find a home abroad in a high-stakes race worth tens of billions of dollars.

The two companies envisage brisk demand for B.C. natural gas from customers in Japan, China and South Korea, and big potential in India and Thailand, said Doug Bloom, president of Spectra's Western Canadian operations.

In the process, they are attempting to build a future that stands to see Canada's westernmost province rival Alberta as Canada's natural gas heavyweight.

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"It's British Columbia that has a massive resource base, and that's where the bulk of the supply will come from," Mr. Bloom said in an interview Monday in Spectra's Vancouver office. "There are enormous amounts of domestic supply and production capability that are way in excess of domestic needs."

Houston-based Spectra and BG of Reading, England, will be 50-50 owners in the pipeline estimated to cost up to $8-billion, with Spectra building the line and BG filling it with natural gas.

The pipeline plans serve as an insight into the size of the terminal BG is looking to construct. Based on research by CIBC World Markets Inc. earlier this year examining the cost of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in Australia, such a project in Canada could cost $24-billion to $32-billion for the terminal alone, although costs between the two countries aren't directly comparable.

The pipeline, which remains conceptual and would take years to permit and build, would connect the gas fields in northeast British Columbia with Prince Rupert, where BG has gained access to port land it believes to be suitable for construction of an export terminal for LNG.

The 850-kilometre line would be built with a capacity of 4.2 billion cubic feet per day. When it is full, the new Spectra-BG pipe will carry more natural gas than Ontario and Quebec burn today on a daily basis. The tremendous size being contemplated is the latest indication of how much gas companies believe they can extract in British Columbia and how substantial plans are for the province to become a globally significant player in gas markets.

Earlier this year, TransCanada announced plans for another pipeline, which it calls Coastal GasLink, that would initially carry up to 1.7 billion cubic feet a day of gas to Kitimat, B.C., another coastal town not far from Prince Rupert, where a series of companies have proposed new LNG terminals.

That's on top of a third pipeline, the Pacific Trails pipeline, which could carry more than one billion cubic feet a day to Kitimat.

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Combined, the three pipelines promise to carry 6.9 billion cubic feet of B.C. gas for export, at a time when output in Alberta, long Canada's primary source of gas, is fading. According to figures released by the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board in June, Alberta's natural gas output is expected to fall to seven billion cubic feet a day in 2021. Seen that way, the new pipelines, including Spectra-BG – which could enter service as early as 2019 – portend a future where British Columbia vies for the title of Canada's leading natural gas producer.

BG confirmed earlier this year that it had secured access to a 200-acre section of coastal land on the Ridley industrial development site, owned by the Prince Rupert Port Authority, to assess the viability of an LNG terminal there. The port normally provides companies 12 to 24 months to assess whether they can make a project work.

Monday's pipeline announcement suggests BG is optimistic about the Prince Rupert site's potential, although such projects require vast construction budgets and complex negotiations to secure enough gas to load onto tankers, and then sell to end users. As such, they come with a degree of uncertainty. Spectra's Mr. Bloom said his company and BG expect to make final investment decisions in 2015. The pipeline project itself is forecast to create 4,000 construction jobs.

BG declined to comment on the terminal size it is contemplating, although spokesman David Byford said of the proposed pipeline: "All of the gas would be subscribed to BG Group." In other words, it would feed only the BG terminal.

"We're still in the feasibility process – more information, more disclosure will come as we move through the process," said Mr. Byford said, who anticipates growing demand for LNG.

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About the Authors

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More

Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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