MERGER STARTING TREND IN CANADA?

MERGER STARTING TREND IN CANADA?

The marriage between Nova Corp. and Trans- Canada Pipelines Ltd. could mean more mergers are coming down the pipe, say industry watchers.

Details of the $14 billion deal were not available.''It's a new era of competitive forces - another example of how the table is being reset completely,'' said Chris Peirce, vice president of strategic planning with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

If the merger does get approval from the federal Competition Bureau, Mr. Peirce said it's likely other oil and gas companies will join forces.

''I don't think that the picture is fully evolved yet,'' he said. ''The need is there for the old big players to redefine themselves and define how they can continue to remain competitive. The only certainty is change right now.''

Mr. Peirce said the move is a response to the emergence of the $3.7 billion Alliance Pipeline project, which - if approved - runs from Fort St. John, British Columbia, to Chicago.

''It's a reconfiguration of competitive pipelines,'' he said. ''If you don't have a project like Alliance proceeding then I think you have a whole different range of concerns around monopoly power.''

But Jim Buckee, president of Talisman Energy Inc., expressed concerns over the concentration of power the merger will create.

''All monopolies are bad and pipeline monopolies are bad also,'' said Mr. Buckee.

Barry Jackson, president of Crestar Energy Inc., said the Nova-TCPL marriage will raise several ''competition questions'' but, by and large, he felt it would be well-received by the energy industry.

Nova, a big Calgary gas pipeline and petrochemicals producer, and TransCanada, the country's largest transporter of natural gas, announced last week they were holding talks.

Rumors of a merger have fueled increases in Nova shares since the beginning of the year.

Nova announced in November that it plans to split its pipeline and its petrochemicals businesses into two distinct companies by the middle of this year.

Nova has a natural gas pipeline monopoly in Alberta - an asset that would complement TransCanada, which has the longest pipeline system in Canada and is the major shipper of Western gas to markets in Ontario and Quebec.