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Chris Finlayson, head of BG Group, met with B.C. government leaders Wednesday in Vancouver.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

British-based BG Group and Malaysia's Petronas are holding preliminary talks to build a shared natural gas pipeline in British Columbia, eager to tap into a province that a new study says holds one of the largest energy resources in North America.

The report, co-authored by the National Energy Board, singled out the Montney natural gas formation in British Columbia and Alberta as having huge potential. The B.C. portion alone of the Montney play contains an estimated 271 trillion cubic feet of marketable natural gas.

Added to other B.C. gas plays, the study concluded that the natural gas resource potential for British Columbia as a whole is 2,933 trillion cubic feet – double previous estimates.

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A dozen or so projects are on the drawing board to export natural gas from terminals in northwestern B.C. in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG), targeting customers in Asia.

But given the massive investments required, BG chief executive Chris Finlayson said some consolidation of rival proposals will be inevitable.

It would be ideal to co-ordinate pipeline projects, which would would move natural gas from northeastern British Columbia to rival export sites on the northwest coast, Mr. Finlayson said in an interview Wednesday.

BG has selected Ridley Island near Prince Rupert as the site for its proposed B.C. plant to export LNG. The Petronas-led Pacific NorthWest LNG project has targeted nearby Lelu Island for its export terminal and lined up TransCanada Corp. as the pipeline builder.

"We certainly view it as extremely advantageous to share infrastructure where that is possible between projects. And clearly we have a possibility of doing that on Ridley Island, and Lelu Island with the Petronas project there," Mr. Finlayson said during a visit to Vancouver, where he met with B.C. Premier Christy Clark and B.C. Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman.

Petronas acquired Calgary-based Progress Energy Canada Corp. for $5.2-billion late last year.

While B.C. LNG projects are in the early stages, Mr. Finlayson said it is important for proponents to watch their capital spending to ensure that exporting LNG makes economic sense. "We are having some discussions clearly with Petronas as our neighbours anyway at the site there. We are looking at where there is potential for co-operation," he said.

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Premier Clark said there is enough natural gas in British Columbia to support drilling and LNG projects for more than 150 years.

How many B.C. energy projects will be built remains to be seen, but Mr. Finlayson said there will be pressure to narrow the number of LNG players.

"We believe that over time with natural shakeout, with natural co-operation, there will be three to four projects. We think that is a function of both the availability of attractive sites and the likelihood of people co-operating," he said. "If we could roll the clock forward for 10 years, that is what we anticipate having."

Mr. Finlayson envisages huge natural gas demand over the next decade and beyond from Asia, especially energy-thirsty China.

The preliminary talks between BG and Petronas could mean a new vision for the LNG infrastructure currently planned in British Columbia. Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp. has a separate plan to build its own pipeline in British Columbia for BG, of Reading, England.

Having a shared gas pipeline instead of two competing lines would reap benefits for Petronas and the BG-led Prince Rupert LNG Ltd. project, Mr. Finlayson said.

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"It will reduce costs, reduce environmental impacts, improve economics," he said.

The National Energy Board published the new study on petroleum reserves with the B.C. Natural Gas Development Ministry, the B.C. Oil & Gas Commission and the Alberta Energy Regulator. The Montney formation holds a combined 449 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas in B.C. and Alberta, according to the report.

The report will highlight to global investors that Montney is positioned to be a huge and crucial hydrocarbon play in North America, said a research note by TD Securities Inc. analyst Mike Dembicki.

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