OF THE 11 companies invited to continue bidding for the right to build a new pipeline linking the Northern Territory to the East Coast gas grid, only nine followed up on the offer.

These bids are currently being assessed by a panel made up of two senior public servants and two members of the private sector, appointed by the Northern Territory government.

The private sector members are Australian Maritime College chairman Michael Vertigan and former KPMG partner Antony Cohen.

Northern Territory chief minister Adam Giles said he expected the evaluation process would conclude by the end of March.

“We know that this project is time critical so we are hoping the competitive process will be finalised in late September 2015, with Contractual and Financial Close shortly thereafter,” he said.

Known as the North East Gas Interconnector, the pipeline was a priority major project for the government, Mr Giles said.

Early estimates had predicted the project would cost over $1 billion.

“This is a critical nation-building project with the potential to create jobs and industry growth in the Northern Territory, particularly in regional areas,” Mr Giles said.

“It is estimated that the Territory has more than 200 trillion cubic feet of gas resources in six onshore basins – potentially enough gas to power Australia for more than 200 years and reserves almost 20 times the size of the Ichthys LNG Project. There is also more than 30 trillion cubic feet of gas offshore.”

“This project will help unlock those onshore and offshore gas assets,” he said.