Never going to see any gas – rural residents

Chris Morris/The Canadian Press
The Halifax Herald Limited
October 15, 2001

Never going to see any gas – rural residents   by Chris Morris/The Canadian Press

Fredericton – Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline is running into resistance from rural New Brunswickers who are fed up at being asked to endure gas pains without getting any gas.

Residents of a rural suburb near Fredericton are angry at a proposed pipeline expansion in their neighbourhood that would involve construction of a compressor station, powered by a jet engine, to expand the capacity of the natural gas pipeline that comes from Nova Scotia’s offshore gas fields.

“There’s no benefit for us in this area,” said Sandra Noftell, whose Rusagonis home is only 500 meters from the natural gas pipeline.

“We would be affected by noise and our property values would go down. But there’s no positive benefit for us. We’re never going to see any gas. It’s all going to the United States.”

Noftell and her neighbour, Kathy Kenney, are organizing residents in the Rusagonis and Beaver Dam areas which have been identified as possible sites for the compressor station.

“We don’t want it here,” said Kenney. “There’s got to be a better way. We’re not going to benefit whatsoever from this.”

The pipeline company, which is based in Halifax, has not made a final decision on a site for the station. It plans to hold public meetings on the issue.

However, the outcry from rural residents underscores one of the peculiar characteristics of the Sable Island gas development and the pipeline that speeds the fuel to the energy-hungry United States: natural gas remains largely a pipe dream for most Maritimers.

Gas distribution has been a disaster in Nova Scotia where Sempra Atlantic Gas recently bowed out after failing to deliver on an ambitious plan to reach more than 70 per cent of households in seven years.

After two years and $50 million, Sempra had only 15 kilometres of pipe in the ground.

Enbridge Gas in New Brunswick has fared better but the company – Canada’s largest gas distributor – doesn’t disguise its disappointment at the slow rate of development in New Brunswick.

Arunas Pleckaitis, president of Enbridge Gas New Brunswick, said the company expects to have 400 customers signed up by the end of the year.

It originally budgeted for at least 1,400 new users.

“The problem is getting all of the industry players working together in a seamless fashion to deliver to the customer,” Pleckaitis said, explaining that while his company can get the pipeline to someone’s door, there haven’t been enough contractors to do the rest of the work.

“You need the players in the marketplace to be able to start the market going.”

Enbridge has moved to fill the gap in customer service through an affiliate, Enbridge Atlantic Energy Services, which offers fixed prices for natural gas for up to two years.

But the reality for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is that the promise of cheap, plentiful natural gas for many remains, at best, a distant goal and may never be realized in rural areas.

Enbridge is trying to convince Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline to expand the line through northwestern New Brunswick to meet up with Gaz Metropolitan in Quebec, but Pleckaitis said the pipeline company is focused on U.S. markets.

“Maritimes and Northeast needs to modify its expansion plan philosophy to encourage and ensure that laterals such as the northwest lateral get built so gas isn’t simply continuing to be shipped down into the United States but that more people in the Maritimes have access,” said Pleckaitis.

Tom Adams, executive director of Energy Probe, a Toronto-based industry watchdog, said Maritimers shouldn’t be too critical of the fact that Sable Island gas, a Canadian resource, is gushing to the United States.

“If it weren’t for U.S. demand, you would have no gas development whatsoever,” Adams said.

“The fact that there’s an export market is your sole and only opportunity to have any kind of development, period.”

Adams said the problem in the Maritimes has been clumsy interference by provincial governments which have made unrealistic and costly demands of gas distributors.

“Foolish government policies in both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have been the straw on the camel’s back,” he said.

Adams said New Brunswick’s decision to allow big companies to bypass gas distributors and buy directly from the pipeline was a major blow to the distribution process. As well, he said the province seems set to make distributors serve remote areas and “take the gas to nowhere.”

Adams said Nova Scotia’s insistence on a gas distributor serving at least 62 per cent of the province’s households was completely unrealistic, an assessment shared by Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm who recently acknowledged that fewer Nova Scotians than expected will receive natural gas.

 

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