Natural Gas Pipelines
Natural Gas Supply, Markets and Competition
TransCanada faces competition at both the supply and market ends of its natural gas pipeline systems. This competition comes from other natural gas pipelines accessing supply basins, including the WCSB, and markets served by TransCanada's pipelines as well as from natural gas supplies produced in certain basins not directly served by the Company. Growth in supply and pipeline infrastructure has increased competition throughout North America. Production has increased in the U.S., driven primarily by shale gas, as well as in the WCSB. After declining over the past four years, WCSB production showed signs of recovery in 2011. Lower-cost shale gas in the U.S. has resulted in an increase in competition between supply basins, changes to traditional flow patterns and an increase in supply choices for customers. This change has contributed to a trend of continued reduction in long-haul, long-term firm contracted capacity and a shift to shorter-distance, short-term firm and interruptible contracts on many natural gas pipelines.
Although TransCanada has diversified its natural gas supply sources, many of its North American natural gas pipelines and its transmission infrastructure remain dependent on supply from the WCSB. TransCanada's Alberta System is the major natural gas gathering and transportation system for the WCSB, connecting most of the natural gas processing plants in Western Canada to domestic and export markets. The Alberta System, however, faces competition for connection to supply, particularly in northeast B.C., where the largest new source of natural gas has access to two existing pipeline companies with infrastructure in the area.
The Canadian Mainline, with its primary source of supply being the WCSB, also seeks opportunities to increase market share in Canadian domestic markets. However, TransCanada expects to continue to face competition for both the eastern domestic markets and in particular, the northeastern U.S export markets. Consumers in the northeastern U.S. generally have access to natural gas through numerous delivery and supply options. Eastern markets that historically received Canadian supplies only from TransCanada's systems are now able to receive supplies from new natural gas pipelines that source U.S. and Atlantic Canada supplies. In recent years, the Canadian Mainline has experienced reductions in volumes originating at the Alberta border and in Saskatchewan, which have been partially offset by increases in volumes originating at points east of Saskatchewan. These reductions in both volumes and distance transported have resulted in an increase in Canadian Mainline tolls per unit that adversely affects its competitive position.
ANR's directly connected natural gas supply is primarily sourced from the U.S. Gulf Coast and midcontinent regions which are also served by competing interstate and intrastate natural gas pipelines. The sale of pipeline transportation capacity in the U.S. Gulf Coast region is highly competitive given the extensive natural gas pipeline network in this region. ANR must also compete for supply from interconnects with pipelines originating within the growing U.S. midcontinent shale gas formations and the U.S. Rockies production regions. Lower natural gas prices could result in reduced drilling activity and slow the rate of supply growth that has been fuelling investments in pipeline infrastructure additions in the U.S. midcontinent which could limit the number of incremental pipeline investment opportunities in the future.
ANR competes for market share with other natural gas pipelines and storage operators in its primary markets in the U.S. Midwest. As transportation capacity has become more abundant due to major pipeline additions over the past few years, lower natural gas prices that result in less available supply could negatively affect the value of pipeline capacity. The value of ANR's natural gas storage services is based on market conditions, which could become unfavourable resulting in reduced rates and terms.
GTN is primarily supplied with natural gas from the WCSB and competes with other interstate pipelines providing natural gas transportation services to markets in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, California and Nevada. These markets also have access to supplies from natural gas basins in the Rocky Mountains and the U.S. Southwest. Historically, natural gas supplies from the WCSB have been competitively priced against supplies from the other regions serving these markets. Increased competing supply sources could negatively affect the transportation value on GTN. Pacific Gas and Electric Company, GTN's largest customer, received California Public Utilities Commission approval to commit to capacity on a competing pipeline out of the U.S. Rockies basin to the California border that went in service in July 2011.
Great Lakes and Northern Border are subject to annual contract renewals and can experience demand changes related to seasonal market conditions. To the extent the capacity on these pipelines is contracted, utilization does not impact revenue significantly. Both pipelines compete for natural gas transportation customers with pipelines that transport gas exiting the WCSB. An increase in competition in the key markets served by TransCanada's pipeline systems could arise from new ventures or expanded operations from existing competitors. For Great Lakes, the combination of growing supply from the Rockies, Mid-Continent and Marcellus shale developments reaching Dawn, Ontario through both new and available pipeline capacity, as well as reduced demand due to the economic environment, has the potential to maintain competitive pressures on WCSB supply into the Midwest. For example, if the transport of natural gas from those other supply basins to Dawn becomes more economical on competitive pipeline routes, then those supplies could reach the eastern zone of Great Lakes' market area and displace Great Lakes' long-haul volumes.
Demand for Pipeline Capacity
Demand for pipeline capacity is created by supply and market competition, variations in economic activity, weather variability, natural gas pipeline and storage competition and pricing of alternative fuels. Demand and supply in new locations often creates opportunities for new infrastructure, but it may also change flow patterns and potentially impact utilization of existing assets. For example, the proposed LNG export facilities on the west coast of B.C. have the potential to reduce demand for capacity on pipelines that transport WCSB supply to other markets. TransCanada's pipelines may be challenged to sell available transportation capacity as transportation contracts expire on its existing pipeline assets, as they have, for example, on the Great Lakes system in fourth quarter 2011. TransCanada expects its U.S. natural gas pipelines to become more exposed to the potential for revenue variability due to rapidly evolving supply dynamics, competition and trends toward shorter term contracting by shippers.
Demand for a pipeline's capacity is ultimately the key driver that enables the transportation services to be sold. There are four key factors that influence demand for pipeline capacity. They are the price of gas that influences the amount of supply, basin on basin competition that influences where the supply will be developed, technology that influences the cost and pace of development of the resource play, and price basis differentials that drive what markets the supply will flow to. The risks associated with each of these four factors are considered below.
The price of natural gas is a key driver for development and exploration of the resource. The current low gas prices in North America may slow drilling activities that in turn diminishes production levels, particularly in dry gas fields where the extra revenue generated from the entrained liquids is not available.
Basin on Basin Competition
Large producers often diversify their portfolios by developing several basins, but this is influenced by actual costs to develop the resource as well as economic access to markets and cost of the necessary pipeline infrastructure. Therefore, basin on basin competition impacts the extent and timing of a resource play development that in turn drives changing dynamics for demand of pipeline capacity.
The increased supply of natural gas in North America is primarily due to the application of technology to shale and tight gas plays that include both horizontal drilling and fracking. There is growing regulatory and public scrutiny over the impacts of fracking. Changes to the practices of fracking through changes in regulations could impact the costs and pace of development of natural gas plays.
In the period 2008 to 2011, there was more capacity added to the continental pipeline network than in any prior period in the history of the industry. Gas supply basins that were once constrained such as the U.S. Rockies and East Texas now have an overabundance of export capacity. As well, the recent focus on the development of shale gas basins has led to declines in conventional supply basins and unutilized capacity on many pipelines. These factors have led to contraction of regional basis differentials, the differences in market prices paid for natural gas between different gas receipt and delivery points, which has led to changes in the way many pipeline systems are being used. As a result, many pipeline companies are moving to restructure their business models, rate designs and services to adapt to the changing flow dynamics.
Regulatory decisions continue to have an impact on the financial returns from existing investments in TransCanada's natural gas pipelines and are expected to have a similar impact on financial returns from future investments. TransCanada manages this risk through rate applications and negotiated settlements, where possible.
Regulations and decisions issued by U.S. regulatory bodies, particularly the FERC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation, may also have an impact on the financial performance of TransCanada's U.S. pipelines. TransCanada continually monitors existing as well as proposed regulations to manage potential impacts to its U.S. pipelines.
Pipeline Abandonment Cost Risk
Through the Land Matters Consultation Initiative (LMCI), the NEB is addressing several significant issues relating to future pipeline abandonment costs for Canadian regulated pipelines. During the LMCI process, the NEB provided several key guiding principles including the position that abandonment costs are a legitimate cost of providing pipeline service and are recoverable, upon NEB approval, from users of the system. Based on the NEB's direction, the earliest that collection of funds for future pipeline abandonment costs through cost-of-service tolls on Canadian regulated pipelines could begin would be 2015.
Refer to the Risk Management and Financial Instruments section in this MD&A for information on additional risks and management of risks in the Natural Gas Pipelines business.