House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said Friday he’s going to press ahead in the next legislative session with building a small natural gas pipeline, setting up a possible conflict with the state’s long-sought large pipeline to reach outside markets.
Chenault has been supporting an effort called the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. that released a preliminary plan during the summer to bring natural gas straight from the North slope to Anchorage and its Mat-Su and Kenai Borough neighbors, with a branch line to Fairbanks.
“I feel we are closer than ever before in realizing Alaskans dream of gas, and no project is proceeding with the momentum that AGDC is, and I want to keep that ball rolling,” he said.
Chenault’s comments were at an Anchorage press conference Friday, where he was accompanied by other members of his majority caucus.
House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, later said Alaska’s emphasis needs to be on getting a 48-inch diameter pipeline to ship North Slope gas to the U.S. Midwest or to export liquefied natural gas through Valdez.
“Anything that detracts from that at this moment is a big mistake,” she said.
A large export line would both provide revenue to the state, as well as much cheaper power to Alaska communities, she said.
Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, said it was too soon to say whether the 24-inch pipeline Chenault proposed or the large line would be cheaper, calling it “premature to answer a question like that.”
Chenault said it was too soon to say what kind of additional subsidies the pipeline he is proposing would need, and that at certain prices it might not need any.
Subsidies, however, could be used to bring down the price to the consumer, he said.
“That’s a conversation for a later date,” Chenault said.
Three bills introduced during the last legislative session and an additional one to be introduced in January will help make the small pipeline a possibility, he said.
There is already $200 million reserved, with $35 million needing to be appropriated, to continue work on the project, he said.
Getting a new source of gas for the Anchorage area is critical, Chenault said, and the region is already at risk of catastrophic shortages in certain situations.
“That’s a Chicken Little theory,” he acknowledged. “Can it happen? Probably not,” he said, but he need is real.
And it is a travesty, he said, that 70,000 Alaskans in Fairbanks are paying energy bills that in some cases are higher than their house payments.
Kerttula warned that Chenault’s proposal might work counter to the state’s efforts, which appear to be paying off, to encourage companies to explore for more gas in Cook Inlet.
“We don’t want them to think we don’t value their effort or we don’t want them to proceed,” she said.
Chenault said his pipeline plan simply kept the state’s options open.
“This legislation is enabling and does no harm,” he said.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.