TransCanada says interest in gas line is encouraging

Becky BohrerAssociated Press

JUNEAU -- TransCanada Corp., the company that holds an exclusive license to build a major natural gas pipeline in Alaska, has been encouraged by results of a recent market solicitation, a spokesman said Friday.

TransCanada has received interest from potential shippers and "major players from a broad range of industry sectors and geographic locations," including North America and Asia, Shawn Howard said in a statement.

The statement didn't indicate if preference was shown for a project that would serve North America markets, or for one that would allow for liquefied natural gas exports overseas.

The nonbinding solicitation ended Sept. 14, and the expressions of interest are just that: not firm commitments to any one project. TransCanada is required by terms of its agreement with the state to gauge market interest every two years.

In 2010, the company held an "open season," which was a three-month period of courting gas producers in an effort to secure shipping agreements. The company proposed two options: a pipeline that would run from the North Slope into Canada and serve North America markets and one that would lead to a liquefied natural gas facility that could export fuel by ship.

That process didn't yield any publicly announced shipping commitments for gas, causing Gov. Sean Parnell last year to urge the North Slope's three major players -- Exxon Mobil Corp., BP PLC and Conoco Phillips -- to coalesce behind a project that would allow for liquefied natural gas exports to the Pacific Rim if the market had indeed shifted from the Lower 48.

In his State of the State address earlier this year, Parnell said he expected the companies to identify a project and associated work scheduled by the end of September, as well as to harden its numbers on a project.

Parnell said he anticipates and expects that TransCanada and the oil companies will be able to meet the benchmark. "I think that that's Alaska's expectation that they (the companies) will align on project concept selection for an LNG line to tidewater in Alaska," he said, adding that this is his expectation, and he hasn't had it confirmed yet by TransCanada or the companies.

Howard said merely that TransCanada continues to work with the companies to evaluate options.

A spokeswoman for BP Alaska, Dawn Patience, said her company has been "responsive to the governor's requests" and is working with the others to commercialize Alaska natural gas.

A spokeswoman for Conoco Phillips in Alaska, Natalie Lowman, said the companies are continuing their work "regarding our effort to evaluate the economic viability of an Alaska North Slope liquefied natural gas export facility located in Southcentral Alaska."

Exxon Mobil spokesman David Eglinton said progress was being made.

Associated Press