Federal regulators are preparing to study the environmental impacts of building a major natural gas pipeline from Alaska's North Slope to Canada.
The study planned by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is necessary for permits to be issued to build and operate any line. FERC said the reason for starting now -- before a project has even been nailed down -- is to encourage early involvement by interested parties in the process and to identify and resolve problems before TransCanada Corp. makes its permit application.
A TransCanada spokesman, James Millar, said the company remains on track to file major permitting applications with FERC and Canadian regulators next year.
TransCanada is working with Exxon Mobil Corp. to advance a major gas pipeline project in the state. Alaskans have long dreamed of a major gas pipeline to help shore up revenues from declining oil production, create jobs and provide a more reliable source of energy.
TransCanada is proceeding with the promise of up to $500 million in cost reimbursements from the state under terms of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. It has proposed two routes: one leading from the North Slope into Alberta, Canada, where gas could be moved on existing systems to North American markets; the other, shorter, cheaper option leading to Valdez, where gas would be liquefied at a facility constructed by other and then shipped to market.
In a notice of intent, published Friday, FERC said it is focusing on the Alberta route for now because it has received "very little information" about the other Valdez option.
Earlier this year, TransCanada told FERC a route would only be determined when agreements with gas shippers are finalized; that hasn't happened yet, and details surrounding route selection remain confidential.
But the company also said its current work efforts are focused on the Alberta option. Millar said the purpose in doing that was to "progress the project efficiently and advance regulatory work."
For the last year, TransCanada has said it's talking with potential shippers about its plans. It has given no timetable for how long those talks might run and it's not clear whether those talks will lead to the signing of precedent agreements.
Millar said the company is pushing ahead on several fronts.