Though details are spare, Exxon has announced it will participate in the Transcanada pipeline, which would carry Alaskan natural gas 1,700 miles from the North Slope through Yukon and British Columbia to Alberta, where the provincial network connects with the U.S. network. To be built at an estimated cost of $30 billion, the pipeline would be more than twice the length of the immensely controversial oil pipeline built in 1977. With a capacity of 6 billion cubic feet per day, it would supply the Lower 48 with the equivalent of ten percent of their current gas consumption.
The Transcanada pipeline proposal prevailed last year in a competition set up by Gov. Sarah Palin. Though the project could be delayed or even derailed by the unexpectedly sharp drop in recent natural gas prices and by larger than expected growth in domestic U.S. production, if it ultimately is built Palin may be able to boast--in a sweet irony--of having done more for the environment than Al Gore. For gas, as we never tire of reminding readers here, is a green fuel. Besides burning more cleanly than oil, it emits a half or even one-third as much carbon dioxide as coal, per unit energy generated. Natural gas also remains, on a kilowatt per investment dollar basis, the cheapest way of boosting electrical generating capacity.
If those 6 billion cubic meters of gas were used in their entirety to replace current coal generation, that would take a much bigger bite out of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions than solar energy could yield in an equivalent period, for much lower cost.