Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pallin's Pipeline

Sarah Pallin's American nativist politics ends when it comes to oil. The Alaskan Govenor is in the pocket of one of Canada's oldest and leading Pipeline companies; TransCanada Pipelines. But shhhh don't tell anyone. Her Drill Baby Drill rhetoric belies the fact that you can drill all you want in Alaska but the point is to get the oil and gas to a refinery. And Alaska for all its ground assets does not have refinering capacity, so that oil and gas has to get shipped south. And who will do the shipping? TransCanada Pipelines, tying Alaska into its Keystone pipeline project.

The controversial pipeline will ship bitumen from the Tarsands south to the Gulf Coast for refining. In Alberta, and in fact across Canada, the pipeline is controversial for several reasons, one is it runs through disputed Lubicon Cree land, and secondly it shows that we remain hewers of coal and drawers of oil, rather than having true energy independence by doing secondary and tertiary production; refining here. Unlike Alaska, Alberta has refineries, and refining capacity.But thanks to TransCanada's cozy relationship to the Stelmach regime, like its cozy relationship with Pallin, we and the Alaskans get screwed.

During the election Harper announced that if elected he would restrict exports of bitumen, the Stelmach regime remained uncharacteristically silent over the issue. Usually Ottawa intrusion into Alberta's energy patch would elicit a hue and cry of outrage with the usual rantings about the NEP. However Harpers move was to assure Americans that Canada has continues to view them as the primary preferred customer for our oil.
With the current fiscal meltdown most of the refining expansion planned for Upgrader Alley in Alberta are now on hold which gives carte blanche to TransCanada to ship our oil and jobs south . As Ross Perot once said; can you hear that giant sucking sound as Alberta and Alaska oil jobs go south?
As Ms. Palin takes to the road to campaign with Mr. McCain, invoking the pipeline as a major victory, some Alaska lawmakers who initially endorsed her plan now believe it was a mistake. State Senator Bert Stedman, a Republican who is co-chairman of the finance committee, said that in its contract with the chosen developer, TransCanada, the state bargained away too much leverage with little guarantee of success.

Of the five companies that eventually bid, Ms. Palin’s administration chose TransCanada Pipelines, which operates 36,500 miles of pipeline across North America. TransCanada had previously tried to negotiate a pipeline deal with the Murkowski administration, but was sidelined by the governor in favor of the big oil companies, some officials who were involved in the talks said. That contributed to the rift that led to the departures of Mr. Irwin, Ms. Rutherford and five others from the state Department of Natural Resources.
The proposal that TransCanada negotiated with the Murkowski administration was structured differently from the current one and had no provision for a $500 million state subsidy, said two people who reviewed it and who spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal remains confidential.
Of the Palin aides familiar with TransCanada from those earlier negotiations, Ms. Rutherford had an unusually close connection. For 10 months in 2003, she was a partner in a consulting and lobbying firm whose clients included Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd., a subsidiary of TransCanada.
Ms. Rutherford said in an interview that after TransCanada submitted its pipeline proposal to the Palin administration, she and the governor never discussed whether her role on the team might be viewed as improper or give the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Ms. Rutherford, who said she had not lobbied for Foothills but had done research and analysis, stated that she was not one of the pipeline team members who recommended a developer to Ms. Palin. That was done by Mr. Irwin and Patrick S. Galvin, the commissioner of the Department of Revenue, she said.

TransCanada is already building the $5.2-billion Keystone pipeline, which will carry 590,000 barrels a day from Hardisty, Alta., to refinery hubs in Illinois and Oklahoma from 2009. The expansion will take an extra 500,000 barrels a day to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Tex.
As well as the confirmed supplies and the possible construction delay, TransCanada said it has increased its stake in Keystone and the expansion as its partner, ConocoPhillips Corp. of Houston, has reduced its share from 50 per cent to 20.1 per cent. TransCanada now has 79.9 per cent of the pipeline, although shippers will have an option to take a 15-per-cent stake.
ConocoPhillips spokesman Bill Graham said the company is still committed to Keystone, and will be a major shipper on the pipeline, but he wouldn't comment on why the company had reduced its interest.
Currently, Alberta exports 500,000 barrels of bitumen daily to the U.S., about 40 per cent of total production of the tar-like substance from the oilsands. That will rise to one million barrels a day by 2010 when two new pipelines, the Alberta Clipper and Keystone pipelines, take bitumen to Texas and Illinois respectively.
Bitumen must be upgraded into heavy oil before it can be sent to refineries to be made into gasoline and other fuels.
Stringham disputed the suggestion that oil companies are sending bitumen south for upgrading to avoid Canada's greenhouse gas emission standards, which come into effect in 2010.
Everyone expects the U.S will have some similar standards soon, he says.
Besides, the decision on where to build an upgrader for bitumen is based on economics, not the environment, says Stringham. In some ways, Alberta is a preferred place to build an upgrader, given the low taxes and stable political environment, though high labour costs are a problem these days.
But building bitumen upgraders isn't easy in the Edmonton region's upgrader alley.
Last month, the BA Heartland upgrader, partly completed near Fort Saskatchewan, was suddenly mothballed. The credit crisis in the U.S. was the major reason cited by the company for closing down the project at this time.
The very same day, however, ConocoPhillips and Calgary-based Encana began work in the U.S. on a $3.6-billion refinery retrofit to handle Alberta bitumen flowing to Illinois.
No wonder, then, that Harper's policy to keep the bitumen here was hailed as good news in the Fort Saskatchewan area where there are plans for a dozen upgraders. "Our group feels it's a very progressive move," said Neil Shelly, executive director of Alberta's Heartland Industrial area.
"It levels the playing field for us because we will be capturing carbon dioxide at the plants in this area, and the U.S. does not have those requirements that entail an additional cost." Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, agrees those upgrading jobs should stay in Canada.
But he doesn't hold out much hope that Harper's bitumen policy will actually reduce the flow of jobs or bitumen down the pipeline.
In fact, McGowan suggests that Harper is sending a reassuring message across the border that energy hungry America will remain Canada's preferred customer and that China, with its lower environmental standards, will be on the prohibited list.
Even if the Democrats win the U.S. election, they too will want a continental energy policy, as that's the only way to reduce U.S. dependence on Venezuelan and Middle East oil.
"He's sending a signal to Washington and Houston that if he is prime minister, Canada will continue the continental energy system," says McGowan "It's the worst kind of election promise. ... He's able to give the impression he was doing something to protect jobs, without taking concrete action.
"What this really does is tie the hands of Alberta producers from looking for other customers." Pipeline builder Enbridge Inc. is one of the few companies going after those new customers in China and Southeast Asia. It's the biggest shipper of bitumen to the U.S and is currently building a $4.2-billion pipeline to the Pacific Coast, dubbed the Northern Gateway, initially to serve China.

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