Alberta looks to Alaska for new pipeline as Keystone XL delays continue

By Jeremy van Loon

Alberta is in discussions with Alaska about shipping oilsands crude through the U.S. state to the Pacific as approval for the southbound Keystone XL pipeline languishes in Washington.

The Alaska plan would involve constructing a pipeline along the Mackenzie River valley and then west to existing ports on the U.S. coast, Alberta Premier Jim Prentice said in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York. Alaskan ports have been staging points for maritime crude shipments for decades.

“It’s technically feasible,” Prentice said. “Whether it’s economically feasible has yet to be determined, so we’re working on that.”

Canadian politicians have struggled to convince opponents in North America of the merits of building new pipelines to ship crude out of land-locked Alberta. TransCanada Corp. has been awaiting U.S. approval for its cross-border Keystone project since it applied in 2008, while Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway proposal has stalled, even with regulatory approval, in the face of opposition from British Columbians who fear the risk of a spill for their salmon streams and coastal inlets.

Alberta’s other pipeline options include TransCanada’s Energy East project to the Atlantic port of Saint John, N.B., as well as Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP’s Trans Mountain expansion to the port of Vancouver.

Potential Route

Alaska, like Alberta, is dependent on oil royalties to fund spending. The state has been hit by plunging oil prices and Gov. Bill Walker this month proposed cuts to the budget.

Alaska is in discussions about routing a Canadian pipeline through the state, said Katie Marquette, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Walker “welcomes all constructive dialogue on growing Alaska’s economy, and looks forward to sharing experiences with another world-class energy-producing region,” Marquette said in an e-mail.

The route for a potential Alaska pipeline would cross through Canada’s Yukon and Northwest Territories, where both governments are supportive, Prentice said. Further discussions are being scheduled with Alaskan officials, he added.

“Our province needs pipelines in every direction,” Prentice said. “We are pushing on tidewater access in every conceivable venue.”

Prentice, who was helping Enbridge push ahead with Northern Gateway before he became premier, said “there’s work to be done” on removing opposition to that project.

The pipeline would terminate at the British Columbian port of Kitimat at the end of the Douglas Channel, the traditional territory of the Haisla and Gitga’at First Nations which, along with neighbouring indigenous groups, oppose the project because of the threat it would mean for their marine food supplies.

The port of Kitimat is about 1,600 kilometres southeast of the Alaskan port of Valdez, the main oil shipment terminal in that state.

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