TransCanada Corp. doesn't yet have the state natural gas pipeline license legislators approved, but an executive with the Calgary-based energy firm says it has already started working on the huge project.
"There's some critical work we need to get done before the snow flies," said Tony Palmer, TransCanada's Alaska point man.
At the top of the to-do list, he said, is snapping aerial photos of the Alaska pipeline route. The total length of the proposed gas line is 1,715 miles -- about 750 within the state and 965 in Canada.
TransCanada has hired Aero-Metric Inc., a Wisconsin firm with an Anchorage office, to take the photos, and the contractor is trying to get the job done in between bouts of bad weather, Palmer said.
Next on the list for TransCanada is finding office space this fall, likely in Anchorage or Fairbanks, he said.
The company is proceeding with the work in anticipation of receiving an exclusive state license from the administration of Gov. Sarah Palin, who on Wednesday signed the bill the Legislature passed this month authorizing state officials to award to the license to TransCanada.
Palin inked the legislation, House Bill 3001, at an AFL-CIO convention at the Hotel Captain Cook in downtown Anchorage.
The darkened ballroom was filled with Teamsters, Laborers, electricians, nurses and other unionized workers.
With her gas team, TransCanada people and three Democratic state senators gathered around -- Johnny Ellis, Bill Wielechowski and Hollis French -- the Republican governor signed the bill in what she called "one of the most historic and exciting events to happen since statehood."
The license is not a construction contract, but state officials hope it will encourage TransCanada to build a pipeline to carry the North Slope's prodigious 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.
The license is a pact spelling out commitments between the state and TransCanada, which the Palin administration chose in January from among a handful of bidders.
In exchange for the state reimbursing up to $500 million of the company's planning expenses, TransCanada has pledged to try to assemble the customers, financing and regulatory clearances for a megaproject that could cost more than $30 billion. If all goes according to plan, TransCanada has said it could have the first gas flowing by 2018.
The law authorizing the license for TransCanada doesn't take effect for 90 days. The company will get the license after that period, said Marty Rutherford, head of Palin's gas team.
But TransCanada's Palmer said the company is going ahead with work anyway at its own expense.
In Canada, the company has inked a small contract with Colt, a Calgary-based engineering firm, to perform some work on that side of the border, Palmer said.
TransCanada isn't the only company planning a gas line, for decades a top state economic development goal.
Two companies TransCanada will try to recruit as customers for its pipeline -- North Slope oil and gas producers BP and Conoco Phillips -- have formed an alliance called Denali to pursue a gas line of their own.
It's similar to TransCanada's project -- a long, large-diameter pipe that would follow the Alaska Highway to an existing pipeline network in Alberta, Canada.
Denali didn't apply for the state license and doesn't need it to carry out its project. Denali has been running print and broadcast ads touting its own field work in Alaska as well as its hiring efforts.
Alaskans needn't expect similar ads from TransCanada, as they would only add extra cost to the project, Palmer said.
Copyright (c) 2008, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.