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A proposed natural gas pipeline from Canada to Oregon, bypassing Northwest Pipeline's route in that region, could significantly impact the Utah-based energy company, but officials can't say to what extent.

"Until we can look at the facts of the pipeline, we really can't comment on the project itself," Northwest spokeswoman Juanita Reid said. "What we know about it has only come from news reports."A United Press International story from Seattle Wednesday said a business consortium was told building the private 400-mile-long natural gas pipeline would be economically feasible.

The assessment came from Morrison-Knudsen Engineers of San Francisco, as well as legal and financial consultants hired by Puget-Columbia Industrial Pipeline a consortium of seven corporations seeking a new supply route for natural gas.

The consortium, including such firms as Wyerhaeuser and Boise Cascade, wants to bypass Northwest in order to gain access to cheaper supplies of natural gas on the spot market.

Reid explained that if the pipeline was built and used, Northwest would have to find other markets for the gas that would have gone to consortium members or possibly raise rates. But at this point Northwest doesn't know how much volume the proposed pipeline would displace or what steps would have to be taken.

The analysis provided so far to the consortium concludes no fatal flaws block the project, estimated to cost between $100 million to $200 million, UPI reported. Still left to study are environmental issues, a possible route for the pipline, financing and recruiting other participants.

Northwest, which employs 500 people at its headquarters in the University of Utah's Research Park, owns and operates an 800-mile pipeline from Sumas, Wash., to San Juan, N.M., and the northwest region of Washington, Idaho and Oregon is a big user of that line.

But Northwest has yet to obtain "open access" authority from federal regulators, which would allow customers to buy inexpensive natural gas on the spot market and use Northwest to transport it.

While Northwest pursues its open access permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, it is limited to carrying only natural gas of local utilities or intrastate pipeline operators, keeping impatient industrial customers from cheaper sources.

Reid said the pipeline could hurt local natural gas utilities.

Officials of Washington Natural Gas, the state's major natural gas utility, believe a private pipeline is unnecessary, UPI reported.

"We have doubts whether it will ever be built," said Bob Adams, a spokesman for Washington Natural Gas. "The frustration of industrial customers is understandable because it has been such a long process getting it open (to open access).

"In the long run, we expect it (Northwest Pipeline's system) to be open (access) permanently," said Adams, thus removing the incentive for building a private pipeline.