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Proposed line would double gas supply

Utah, Nevada and California would have access to more natural gas from Wyoming in 2003 if a Williams pipeline unit can get approval for a new pipeline to essentially run parallel to an existing one.

The company said Thursday it could more than double the amount of gas shipped to customers in the area served by the line, which stretches 922 miles from Opal, Wyo., to near Bakersfield, Calif., in the San Joaquin Valley. The line runs basically in a north-south path through Utah.

"This is an extremely large project for us," said Bev Chipman, a company spokeswoman. "We anticipated that at some point we would expand on the first pipeline, but the current needs for additional gas has prompted us to move forward with this project."

The existing line, which became operational in 1992, has a design capacity of 700 million cubic feet per day. The new line would be 700 to 750 miles long and run side-by-side with the existing line and tied together for some portions.

The new line would have a capacity of 900 million cubic feet per day. When combined with some smaller projects, the company would be moving more than 2 billion cubic feet per day.

Williams wants the new line operational by May 1, 2003.

Chipman said the need for the line was due to increased demand for natural gas to fuel electric generation facilities throughout the West and a general increase in demand for Rocky Mountain basin gas.

Most of the new supply would be used for electric generation. Converting the energy to electricity would light about 4.5 million homes.

When the company set about to ask potential shippers about their interest in using the new line, "it was huge, even bigger than we thought it would be," Chipman said.

"There is a tremendous demand for natural gas to fuel new electric generation facilities in California and Nevada," said Kirk Morgan, director of business development for Kern River. "This expansion provides shippers with an economically attractive opportunity to secure additional, firm, year-round transportation."

About 18 shippers use the existing line. Some, like Questar Gas, use the line to get gas to send along to their business and residential customers. Some is used by electrical-generation companies and some is sent directly to certain industries for their use.

Questar Gas spokesman Chad Jones said the company uses a tap in Magna to provide gas service to communities in southern Utah.

The existing line cost Williams about $1 billion to build and the new one would cost the company more than that.

Chipman said 1,500 to 1,800 people would be employed in Utah during the construction, which would take more than a year.

In addition to Questar having better access to gas to serve Utah customers, the project would allow other Utah shippers in the Uinta Mountains to move their gas into the market, she said. It also would nearly double the amount of annual property taxes the company pays in Utah — to about $7 million.

Williams is hoping Gov. Mike Leavitt holds true to his promise to fast-track such energy projects in the permitting process. The company will need federal, state and local approvals, but it will have to significantly trim the permitting process this time to meet its time goals — the original Kern River project took six years to permit and build.

In the meantime, the company is trying to get federal approval on an $81 million emergency project that would add compression to the existing line, increasing capacity by 19 percent to help California meet electric generation needs.

"We want to have additional compression facilities on Kern River by July 1 so we can deliver more gas to California for the summer cooling season," Chipman said.

Williams also is seeking federal approval to expand the Kern River Pipeline compression to boost capacity even further. The $80 million project is targeted to be finished by May 1, 2002.

"Shippers are seeking more access to natural gas from Rocky Mountain basins, where producers are aggressively stepping up production," Morgan said. "Kern River is in the right place at the right time to help bring that production to market."

Williams' gas pipeline unit is based in Houston and has offices in Salt Lake City and Owensboro, Ky. Its five interstate natural gas pipelines are among the nation's largest-volume transporters of natural gas, delivering approximately 16 percent of the natural gas consumed in the United States.

Williams' 27,300-mile pipeline network stretches from coast to coast, with access to every major supply basin in the country.