Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Competing Alaska gasline joint ventures said considering merger

ANCHORAGE - The BP/ConocoPhillips Denali joint venture that is planning to build a massive natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the Lower 48 is in preliminary talks to join a competing project headed by TransCanada and Exxon Mobil, according to a source familiar with the projects.
The BP/Conoco project, known as the Denali Pipeline, received approval from federal regulators earlier this month to conduct an open season to solicit interest in the project from North Slope gas producers. The TransCanada/Exxon project - which won a special license to build a pipeline from the State of Alaska in 2008 - received its open season approval in March.
The $30-billion-plus price tag on the project means it is highly unlikely two pipelines would actually get built - a joining of the projects has long been seen as inevitable.
But BP's growing financial burden from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill may be accelerating the process. BP has already announced plans for up to $10 billion in asset sales, and likely changes in its capital spending.
Dave MacDowell, a spokesman for Denali, said he wasn't aware of such discussions, but stressed that BP and ConocoPhillips "have said repeatedly they are open to considering involvement of any entity that adds value and takes on risk."
The natural gas pipeline would be among the largest single energy infrastructure projects in the world. It would include a massive natural gas processing plant on the North Slope and 1,700 miles of pipe that would most likely run to Alberta, Canada. There, existing pipelines would carry the gas to U.S. markets.
Alaska granted TransCanada a license in January 2008 to build the long-sought companion to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which has been moving oil to U.S. markets since 1977.
That license followed a public bidding process initiated by then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who canceled a pipeline deal that her predecessor, Frank Murkowski, had negotiated in closed-door sessions with the three major North Slope producers.
The three producers - Exxon Mobil, BP and Conoco - did not take part in Palin's state bidding process, saying it did not provide the kind of tax and tariff assurances they needed. ConocoPhillips announced its competing project shortly after, and BP joined in that project in April 2008.
Many were skeptical of the state-backed project from the beginning, saying it could not proceed without cooperation from the producers. Dwindling state coffers in Alaska, which relies heavily on royalty payments and taxes from oil and natural gas production, also undermined support.
But last year Exxon Mobil said it would partner with TransCanada on the state-backed project. Exxon Mobil holds many of the largest natural gas fields on the North Slope.

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