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Americans express concern over Georgia Strait Crossing project
May 12, 2001

The Georgia Strait Crossing natural gas pipeline project appears to be facing some opposition within the United States of America as well as within Canada.

The Georgia Strait Crossing pipeline is projected to run from Sumas, Washington to Vancouver Island, in British Columbia. When complete, the pipeline will provide a second gas pipeline route to Vancouver Island. This will supplement the existing pipeline constructed approximately ten years ago. Like the first, the new pipeline will supply Canadian natural gas. However, unlike the first, this project involves a route through the United States. It will connect to an existing pipeline that crosses the international boundary at Sumas. The existing pipeline supplies Canadian gas from Westcoast Energy to the Williams Northwest Pipeline system which operates in the United States.

The project is a joint venture between B.C. Hydro and a unit of the Williams Companies Inc. The American portion of the line will run 50 km through Whatcom County from Sumas to Cherry Point using 20 inch diameter pipe. At Cherry Point a 16 inch pipeline will go underwater at depths up to 1050 feet for a distance of 65 km across Georgia Strait. The pipeline crosses the international boundary back into Canada before surfacing on Vancouver Island at Hatch Point. A further 16 km of pipeline will be constructed to connect the new line to the existing Centra Gas pipeline.

Although the pipeline may eventually supply customers within Whatcom County, the pipeline is intended primarily to serve Canadians. Whatcom County residents will benefit from anticipated economic spin-offs during the construction phase as well as from property taxes on the pipeline.

The project developer recently filed its regulatory application for the project with FERC, the American Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The Bellingham Herald newspaper reported on May 8th that a deadline has been set by FERC for intervenors to apply for legal standing. Motions to intervene must be filed with FERC by May 25th. Comments about the project can also be submitted to FERC without formal intervention. Further information about the American regulatory process can be found at the FERC website located at www.ferc.fed.us.

In several earlier stories run by the Herald, Whatcom County council was reported to have imposed a moratorium on new natural gas or petroluem transmission pipelines within the county. The county government has stated that it intends to create regulations establishing where the pipelines should go. However, a Williams representative expressed doubts about whether the county has any jurisdiction to regulate such matters and stated that legal proceedings against the county government would be taken if it refused to issue county permits. However, he pointed out that these permits would not be applied for until regulatory approval is granted. Williams was also reported to have the power to expropriate rights of way required for the project within the American section of the pipeline route.

Local opposition in Whatcom County is not surprising. The issue of pipeline safety has a high profile in the county due to two recent pipeline incidents. In 1997, another Williams pipeline ruptured in a rural area. The second incident occurred in 1999 with the rupture of a pipeline owned by Olympic Pipe Line Co. It was designed to carry refined petroleum products. Gasoline spilled from the pipe, flowed down a creek and exploded in a giant fireball. The explosion occurred within the City of Bellingham. The incident took the lives of three children who were playing beside the creek at a point downstream from the rupture.

In an editorial opinion piece dated May 9th, the Bellingham Herald urged FERC to conduct public hearings into the Georgia Strait Crossing project. It is expected that many Canadians would be present if such hearings take place.

The Georgia Strait Crossing project is not free of opposition in Canada either. Many property owners and other residents of the Cowichan Valley and the Gulf Islands have raised a number of environmental concerns. A Canadian website has been established to provide current coverage of this project and related energy news. See Sqwalk! at www.sqwalk.com.

The Bellingham Herald has been providing continuing coverage of the pipeline project. Herald news stories are available online at www.bellinghamherald.com. The project developer's web page is also available at www.georgiastrait.twc.com.

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