December 21, 2005

Canada regulators set hearings for Arctic gas plan

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Public hearings into North America's first major Arctic gas pipeline will start next month and travel to communities throughout Canada's far North and elsewhere for nearly a year, regulators said on Tuesday.

Epic regulatory and environment-impact proceedings for the C$7 billion ($6 billion) Mackenzie Gas project are slated to begin in the northern town of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, on January 25, the National Energy Board said.

The environmental joint review panel will start its portion of hearings in Inuvik on February 14.

Regulators will hear arguments about the massive proposal in at least 20 different locations from as far north as Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, on the coast of the Beaufort Sea, to Calgary in southern Alberta.

In November, after months of negotiations with governments and native communities over thorny financial issues, Imperial Oil Ltd., which is leading the project, and its partners took a big step forward by saying they were ready to go to the hearing phase.

The project involves a 1,350 km (840 mile) pipeline along the Mackenzie River Valley to Canadian and U.S. markets that would ship up to 1.9 billion cubic feet of gas a day.

The line would tap three large gas fields that were discovered in the early 1970s in the Mackenzie Delta region.

Imperial's partners in the development are Shell Canada Ltd., ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp. and the Aboriginal Pipeline Group.

Imperial said recently it expects the pipeline, which would connect with Alberta's extensive gas pipeline network, offering access to numerous major consuming markets, would not be in service until 2011.

($1=$1.17 Canadian)