(Adds comments by CEO and another executive, details and background on planned Keystone expansion, adds closing share price)
By Julie Gordon
VANCOUVER, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Pipeline operator TransCanada Corp said on Thursday that it would go ahead with the C$2.4 billion ($1.9 billion) expansion of its NGTL natural gas system, boosting pipeline access for producers in Western Canada’s gas-rich basins.
The Calgary-based company also reported a strong fourth quarter profit, beating market expectations, sending its shares up 5 percent to C$56.33 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
TransCanada said the expansion of its Nova Gas Transmission Line (NGTL), which moves gas from Alberta and British Columbia to markets all over North America, will boost basin export capacity by 1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd).
The expansion will also connect new supply in the Montney and Duvernay formations, which Canadian producers and global oil majors say could rival the most prolific U.S. shale fields. Development has so far been hampered by weak prices and limited pipeline capacity.
“This program will provide much-needed transportation solutions for Western Canadian natural gas producers and unlock access to existing Canadian Mainline capacity,” said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s chief executive, in a statement.
Girling later said on a conference call that TransCanada continues to work actively on its Coastal GasLink line, another possible outlet for stranded Canadian gas, and that it expects the Shell-led LNG Canada consortium to make an investment decision on its export terminal by year-end.
TransCanada also said it now expects to start construction on its $8 billion Keystone XL expansion in 2019, with the build taking about two years to complete.
The company said in January customers committed to using about two-thirds of the capacity on the line, which has been delayed for more than eight years.
“We do have some items that we have to attend to in ‘18, including securing additional land in Nebraska,” said Paul Miller, vice president of liquid pipelines, noting it is in talks with landowners, indigenous groups and stakeholders.
Nebraska regulators approved the project last year, but not TransCanada’s preferred route, choosing instead a more costly alternative. Greenpeace and Bold Nebraska said on Thursday that there are more than 100 landowners opposed to that alternative route.
Keystone’s attributable net income was C$861 million, or 98 Canadian cents per share, in the quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with a loss of C$358 million, or 43 Canadian cents, a year ago.
On an adjusted basis, the company earned 82 Canadian cents, beating the average analyst estimate of 77 Canadian cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. ($1 = 1.2512 Canadian dollars) (Additional reporting by Akshara P in Bengaluru and Valerie Volcovici in Washington Editing by Marguerita Choy and Matthew Lewis)