Enbridge says chances of building Northern Gateway this year 'remote'

CALGARY -- The CEO of Enbridge said Friday he doesn't expect to meet a deadline to begin construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline this year and the Calgary-based company will likely seek an extension.

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Al Monaco said Enbridge is still working to satisfy the 209 conditions included in its 2014 permit to build the pipeline, as well as firm up commitments with shippers and get more community support.

"Our ability to begin construction before the end of the year is really quite remote at this point," Monaco told investors on a conference call after the company reported its fourth-quarter results.

One condition of the permit requires it to start construction on either the 1,177-kilometre pipeline or a marine terminal in Kitimat, B.C., by Dec. 31 unless the National Energy Board directs otherwise.

Enbridge is assessing what would be needed if it were to apply for a deadline extension, Monaco said.

"We are really in evaluation mode," he said.

There has been strong First Nations opposition to Northern Gateway in B.C., where most land is not covered by treaties. The project, which would run from northern Alberta to a deepwater port in Kitimat, was further set back when the federal government banned tanker traffic along B.C.'s north coast.

Monaco has said the company is not giving up on the pipeline despite the tanker ban, and on Friday said he's not concerned with sticking to a defined timeline.

"We are not looking at our watch here on the project," he said. "This really will take some more time to develop, and that's what we're focused on."

The company said it's also facing delays on its Sandpiper and Line 3 projects in the U.S. after the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission ordered that a final environment impact statement on the pipelines be completed before other permits can be processed.

If the commission's decision is upheld, construction and $5 billion in spending on those projects would be postponed to 2018, Enbridge said.

In releasing its earnings, Enbridge said it did successfully complete 14 other projects worth $8 billion in 2015, including the reversal and expansion of Line 9B in southern Ontario.

The company reported $378 million profit and $494 million in adjusted earnings in the fourth quarter. The adjusted earnings worked out to 58 cents per share after excluding certain items, up nearly 21 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2014 and beating analyst expectations of 52 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters.

Looking ahead, Monaco said the company's five-year plan has the company's core pipeline business still making up 70 to 75 per cent of earnings but he's hoping to diversify that and secure projects that aren't reliant on the oilsands.

"In terms of how we look at growth beyond 2019, we've been trying to establish opportunities around new platforms, whether it's power generation, transmission, natural gas and other opportunities to build that inventory now for the future," Monaco said.

Monaco said he sees Alberta as a promising place for renewables investment thanks to both strong wind and solar resources and the NDP's climate leadership plan.

"We think this is a very good environment to invest in renewables," he said. "You've got a great resource plus you've got a set of conditions from a policy position that would support further investment here."


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