The Calgary-based company and Idemitsu Kosan Co. Ltd., a major petrochemical and refining firm, will each own half of the partnership, which envisions transporting both liquefied petroleum gas and liquefied natural gas overseas.
"Canada is one of the world's most resource-rich countries and has proven to be a very promising new supplier of gas to Japan," said Idemitsu president Kazuhisa Nakano.
Japan is Asia's biggest consumer of liquefied natural gas, or LNG — gas that has been chilled into a liquid state so that it can be more easily transported overseas by tanker. That need has grown since March 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, prompting the country to look at other sources of energy.
Meanwhile, North America is awash in natural gas from emerging shale formations, like those in northeastern British Columbia. The supply glut has depressed prices, causing many companies to look at ways to export the gas to markets where the price is several times higher.
"We are pleased to work with Idemitsu to develop opportunities that will be good for the people of Japan and Canada," said AltaGas CEO David Cornhill.
AltaGas and Idemitsu will study the feasibility of a liquefaction plant, with that phase expected to wrap up about a year from now. Shipments could begin as early as 2017.
AltaGas and Idemitsu are also studying exporting liquefied petroleum gas, such as butane and propane, across the Pacific with shipments starting as early as 2016. That would include logistics, plant refrigeration and storage facilities.
The AltaGas-Idemitsu partnership is the latest in a string of natural gas export deals.
Malaysia's Petronas, which recently acquired Progress Energy Corp. for $6 billion, is planning to build an LNG facility near Prince Rupert capable of processing 12 million tonnes of gas per year.
U.S. energy giants Chevron Corp. and Apache Corp. are jointly developing another LNG terminal in Kitimat B.C. Chevron got involved in that project only recently after it bought out the stakes of Encana Corp. and EOG Resources. That plan envisions processing 10 million tonnes of gas per year.
Royal Dutch Shell PLC and three Asian partners — PetroChina, Mitsubishi Corp. and Korea Gas Corp. — have also announced plans to build a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Kitimat.
Another proposal called BC LNG, owned by the Haisla First Nation and Houston-based LNG Partners, expects its first shipment in 2014.
AltaGas shares rose nearly two per cent to $35.54 Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.