Mackenzie Gas Project report set for release Wednesday

CALGARY — A panel examining the socio-economic and environmental effects of the Mackenzie Gas Project is set to reveal its findings more than three years later than first expected.

CALGARY — A panel examining the socio-economic and environmental effects of the Mackenzie Gas Project is set to reveal its findings more than three years later than first expected.

The Joint Review Panel’s report will be posted online Wednesday afternoon, according to the Northern Gas Project Secretariat.

The report has been anxiously awaited by backers of the proposed natural gas pipeline, which would run more than 1,200-kilometres through the Northwest Territories.

When the panel began its work in August 2004, the review was expected to take only 10 months.

“This is the largest project ever in the history of the North and it will completely transform the northern economy,” said Stephen Hazell, with the environmental group Sierra Club of Canada.

“There’s some good reasons for the panel to take its time.”

On its journey from gas fields near the Beaufort Sea coast south to the Alberta boundary, the pipeline would traverse ecologically sensitive permafrost.

With climate change rapidly accelerating in the North, there is an even greater need for regulators to rigorously examine the potential effects of the pipeline, Hazell said.

“I suspect the panel is going to say some interesting — probably some controversial — things that I think a lot of people are not going to be ready for,” he said.

“The whole question of global climate change and how you build a pipeline through permafrost country — I think these are issues that the panel is likely to take a very serious look at and is likely to set some very serious conditions for approval.”

The pipeline, according to its most recent March 2007 estimate, is expected to cost $16.2 billion, more than double its original 2004 price tag of $7 billion.

Imperial Oil Ltd. (TSX:IMO) is the lead partner in the Mackenzie project, which also includes Imperial’s U.S. parent, ExxonMobil Corp. (NYSE:XOM), ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) and Royal Dutch Shell PLC (NYSE:RDS).

The Aboriginal Pipeline Group, which acts on behalf of communities along the pipeline’s route, also has an ownership in the pipeline.

Natural gas shipper TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) would feed the Mackenzie gas into its Alberta system, and participates in the project through its investment in the APG.

In a recent interview, TransCanada chief executive Hal Kvisle said there is still a need for the Mackenzie pipeline, despite burgeoning supplies from shale gas reservoirs to the south that are cheaper to develop and closer to market.

“We continue to think this is a very good project that will open up a new basin, that will enable the Canadian upstream industry to continue finding and developing new gas in new parts of the country and that will have very significant benefits for the aboriginal communities all up and down the Mackenzie Valley,” he said.

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