New Brunswick expects backing in bid for Canada-first gas

Canadian Press
Globe and Mail
May 6, 2002

FREDERICTON — The New Brunswick government says it will have the backing of Quebec, at least one other Maritime government, and powerful Ontario interests when it makes its case to the National Energy Board for a guaranteed Canadian share of Sable Island gas reserves.

The Conservative government of Premier Bernard Lord is preparing for a hearing in July when it will pitch the cause of economic nationalism versus the lure of U.S. dollars in its bid to get gas to northern New Brunswick and Quebec, rather than have it simply sold to the highest bidder.

Energy Minister Jeannot Volpe said the governments of Quebec and Prince Edward Island will support the province’s application for a Canada-first policy governing the sale and distribution of gas from offshore Nova Scotia.

As well, he said Enbridge Inc. of Toronto is backing New Brunswick, along with Montreal-based Gaz Métropolitain and Co. LP, which is involved in a proposal to build a pipeline from Quebec to northwest New Brunswick. Mr. Volpe said it’s only fair that Canadian needs are met before Sable gas is sold to the United States.

But critics dismiss New Brunswick’s application as short-sighted, parochial and based on the same kind of thinking that gave rise to the much-maligned national energy program of the 1980s.

Tom Adams of Energy Probe, an industry watchdog, said he’s surprised the National Energy Board has agreed to hear the application.

“This proposal could only scare away investment in new gas exploration in the Maritimes.”

Mr. Adams said he’s amazed the Lord government had the gall to pitch the idea so close to a scheduled energy forum arranged by the New England governors and Eastern Canadian premiers. The forum, in Saint John next week, will include such participants as U.S. ambassador to Canada Paul Celluci.

However, supporters of New Brunswick’s position say it has a lot of popular appeal and is grounded in common sense.

Ian Doig, editor of the energy newsletter, Doig’s Digest, said from Calgary the proposal has merit and deserves to be heard by the National Energy Board.

“There don’t seem to be any specific ground rules for Canadian content,” Mr. Doig said.

Lori MacLean, spokeswoman for EnCana Corp., the energy giant recently created by the merger of PanCanadian Energy Corp. and Alberta Energy Co., said the company is waiting to see more details of New Brunswick’s application before completing its intervention. Ms. MacLean said the company has not yet sold any gas from its Deep Panuke project off Nova Scotia, set to begin production in 2005.

“No gas from Deep Panuke has been sold to anyone, including any customers in the United States,” Ms. MacLean said. “Nothing has been committed and we’re open to offers.”


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