Thursday, November 8, 2012

Does TransCanada have a conflict of interest?

Through Canada or to Valdez?

When former Governor Sarah Palin took office in 2007, she turned her back upon her campaign’s support of the all-Alaska natural gas pipeline to Valdez, even though she spoke in support of the project and stood with those who supported the project during the campaign. Supporters included former Governor Walter J. Hickel who was an outspoken proponent of the Valdez LNG project and a vocal opponent of Murkowski’s give away to Canada. Undoubtedly, her rising popularity was in no minor part due to her support of the all-Alaska natural gas pipeline to Valdez alternative to then Governor Frank Murkowski’s "contract" with Exxon, Mobil, and BP to build a 4.5bcf/da pipeline through Canada to the Midwest. Palin then beat former Governor Tony Knowles in the General Election in November, becoming the first woman governor of the State of Alaska.

By 2006, it was obvious to most Alaskans that then Gov. Murkowski’s pipeline contract was nothing but a promise by the oil companies to consider building a pipeline after much study and consideration. Exxon spoke of 2025 as the time frame for Alaska North Slope natural gas to move to market. Palin beat Murkowski in the August, 2006 Primary Election. Palin then won the November General election against former Governor Tony Knowles.

The die was cast for the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act.

Upon taking office, Sarah Palin literally reset on her support of the all-Alaska natural gas pipeline. Then Gov. Sarah Palin reappointed Tom Irwin as Dept. of Natural Resources Commissioner. Former Deputy Commissioner Marty Rutherford was also reappointed as Deputy Commissioner DNR. Both had been fired by by Gov. Frank Murkowski for disagreements regarding his actually having a contract with the oil companies to build a pipeline. However, both were firmly convinced that Alaska needed the large diameter 4.5 bcf/day pipeline through Canada to replace oil revenues from the Trans Alaska Pipeline Systems steadily declining volume transported to market. The North Slope oil production was about 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) at that time.

Irwin and Rutherford played a major role with legislative input in drafting AGIA. The project initially mirrored Murkowski’s project with one exception. The project did not rely solely upon the oil companies to build a gas pipeline. AGIA called for a competition with the best project as the winner. TransCanada became the sole competitor and was selected as the sole contractor under AGIA. The Alaska Gas Port Authority, a consortium of the cities of Fairbanks, Big Delta, and Valdez, submitted a proposal that was deemed late, incomplete and, therefore, not considered. By the gubernatorial election of 2010, the route was to the Alberta Hub, and not down through Alberta to the Midwest.

Since, AGPA has touted its route and LNG terminal plan as an alternative to AGIA. AGPA’s arguments have largely fell upon deaf ears in both the Paline/Parnell Administrations and the Legislature. Yet, the LNG market was demonstrating a major growth in Asia.

The contradiction in the volume of the planned pipeline projects, both Palin’s and Murkowski’s, was the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission limit of allowable production committed for export to market for North Slope Natural Gas. AGOCC set the amount at about 2-3bcf/da. This figure took into consideration the amount of natural gas necessary to keep the North Slope oil fields pressurized for continued production. Where Murkowski or Palin intended to come up with another 1.5 bcf/da between AGOCC’s limit and the 4.5 bcf/da capacity of their pipelines to Canada has to this day never been fully explained. Nor, has Governor Sean Parnell’s administration bothered to explain why his administration has continued to support TransCanada’s planned 4.5 bcf/da pipeline through Canada under AGIA in the face of the AGOCC’s limit on North Slope natural gas available for export.

In 2007, the Palin Administration announced the award of the AGIA contract to the sole applicant: TransCanada. TransCanada plans incorporated much of former Governor Murkowski’s pipeline. The volume was 4.5 bcf/da, the diameter a >=48 inch casing, the route through Canada to Alberta, then down to the Midwest. Later, TransCanada modifed its plan to use the Alberta Gas Hub distribution system to the U.S., thereby using existing pipelines to distribute gas to the U.S. from Canada. However, the price of the project continued to grow. The estimated cost for construction increased from $18B to over $40B by the gubernatorial election of 2010. From 2007 to today, little or no progress was made on the project. No permits for a route were issued in Canada or Alaska. No firm construction date was ever stated by TransCanada.

In 2008, Conoco and BP announced a competing natural gas pipeline project to Canada called Denali. The plan called for a 4.5 bcf/da natural gas pipeline to export North Slope natural gas to Canada. In May, 2011, Conoco and BP announced that the Denali project was no longer viable. About a week before that announcement, the Alaska president of Conoco’s Alaska operations stated that it was never the intention of Conoco or BP to bring Alaska’s North Slope to market, as they had intended to warehouse the natural gas indefinitely through reinjection back into the wells. Conoco and BP’s Denali proposal was intended to influence the course of Alaska’s legislative and gubernatorial policies pertaining to gas production and marketing of North Slope natural gas. The acts on the part of BP and Conoco amounted to fraud upon the State. The silence on the part of the Parnell Administration and the Legislature was deafening. (

On June 11, 2009, Exxon partnered with TransCanada. This partnership raised questions about the viability of just one producer on the North Slope participating in the project, when it was recognized that all three were necessary to any agreement to sell enough gas to move by pipeline. At that time, BP and Conoco were touting their "competing" Denali gasline project.

Since 1978, the completion of the TAPS oil pipeline, no discernible forward progress has been made towards actual construction of a natural gas pipeline in Alaska. Neither Denali’s nor TransCanada’s heavily publicized Open Seasons had produced any customers for their Alaska projects.

The reality of any natural gas pipeline from the North Slope, was that it took production from all three producers, Exxon, Conoco and BP, to provide sufficient natural gas to make a pipeline project viable. Further, the Point Thompson controversy between Exxon and the State also had to be settled.

The all-Alaska natural gas pipeline project first proposed by Yukon Pacific in the early 80s was for a 2.5 bcf/da pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez to be converted to LNG for export to the U.S. That was basically the same pipeline and volume intended in the plan voted on 2002. AGPA’s pipeline plan today is 3.0 bcf/da. Note that these volumes are within the AGOCC’s volume restrictions for North Slope gas export.

In mid-2011, Governor Sean Parnell finally awakened to the reality of the world LNG market. He suddenly decided that the only viable market for Alaska’s North Slope natural gas was as LNG to Asia. Since, he has tried to move AGIA in that direction. Under AGIA, TransCanada has the option to build a pipeline to a LNG terminus at Valdez for LNG export to market.

In October, 2011, Governor Sean Parnell called for a meeting with the North Slope oil producers to discuss a gasline and the LNG option. On January 6, 2012, Gov. Parnell met with Exxon’s CEO Rex Tillerson, BP Alaska’s CEO Bob Dudley, and Conoco’s Alaska operations CEO Jim Mulva in Anchorage. Gov. Parnell announced that he achieved a promise on the part of the producers to consider ways of getting Alaska’s North Slope gas to market. As promised, in a letter dated March 30, 2012, the oil companies outlined their intent to move forward on a gasline under AGIA. They updated their progress in another letter dated October 3, 2012. However, the progress was basically couched in terms declaring that ‘fiscal certainty’ was required for both a natural gas pipeline and any increase in oil production in Alaska. A position that the oil companies have steadfastly promoted for some time.

The first open season by TransCanada and Exxon ran from April 30-July 30, 2010. The second open season was conducted August 31-September 14, 2011. Both were apparently a bust with insufficient commitments to make any announcements regarding pipeline construction. Under AGIA, TransCanada has five years from the first open season before the project can be declared uneconomical and abandonment would be declared by either the State or TransCanada. (

Today, Alaskans are still awaiting news of a natural gas pipeline project that will actually move North Slope natural gas to market.

Does TransCanada have a conflict of interest in its commitment to Kitimat?

Kitimat, British Columbia is the site of a proposed LNG terminal. In 2010, Apache Corp. announced the first agreements regarding LNG commitments with Korea. A 10 year commitment was made by Korea for Canadian LNG exported from Kitimat.

Since, the Kitmat development has expanded to include an additional LNG terminal and oil export capability to be built by a partnership lead by Shell to transport Alberta tar sands oil and LNG to Asia. The oil pipeline will be two parallel pipelines to be built by Enbridge. The pipelines would run 694 miles from Bruderheim, AB to Kitimat, B.C. with an estimated construction cost of $5.5B Canadian. Up to 1,000,000 barrels of crude per day would be transported by the pipelines.

TransCanada’s involvement and conflict of interest lies in its commitment to Shell to build a $4B (Canadian) 434 mile long natural gas pipeline from the B.C. shale gas fields to Kitimat. Kitmat’s LNG terminal will export approximately 1.2 bcf/da of LNG for Asian markets. Shell expects to export up to $10B in Canadian LNG to Asia through TransCanada’s pipeline. Shell is estimating a demand that will see up to 200 LNG tankers a year taking on LNG from Kitimat. The estimated completion date, given the environmental and indigenous lands rights of way issues, is expected by the end of the decade. The pipeline to be built by TransCanada is expected to measure over a meter (>39 inches) in diameter with an initial capacity of 1.7 bcf/da.

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Shell and its partners, Korean Gas, Mitsubishi, and PetroChina, are planning to build a separate LNG terminal from that planned by Apache Corp. back in 2010.

However, there may be a new wrench in the monkey works of the plans for any west coast LNG terminal, including Valdez.

TransCanada has an exclusive under AGIA. An exclusive normally implies a higher standard of commitment to the grantor than would an ordinary contract without an exclusive.

Given TransCanada’s commitment to Kitimat, should the State of Alaska move to declare breach to end AGIA?

Is there any basis in fact or common sense that would require the State to continue what is clearly a contract that is compromised by a conflict of interest by the grantee of the exclusive under that contract?

The latest cost estimate to construct a 3.0 bcf/da natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez is now estimated by TransCanada and Exxon to be $65B, including the LNG train at Valdez. The last estimate of the cost of construction for the AGIA Alberta Hub pipeline was approximately $40B. Compare the $65B cost of the AGIA LNG option to that the cost of the Kitimat 1.7 bcf/da >39 inch natural gas pipeline to be built by TransCanada under its agreement with Shell Oil. The cost of the Kitimat natural gas pipeline is just $4B Canadian.


Is the $65B price tag of the Alaska natural gas pipeline and LNG train under AGIA just hype to dissuade any protest at further delays?

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