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.
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.
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.
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.
"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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