My Turn: Plan toward growth - build an in-state gasline

Encouraging development of Alaska’s energy resources to benefit Alaskans is one of our highest priorities as legislators. To that end, we couldn’t be more pleased with the recent announcement of a major natural gas find in Cook Inlet.

Confirmation of this discovery could significantly improve Southcentral Alaska’s energy security. For now, we are cautiously optimistic and wish Escopeta Oil Company the greatest success proving up this potentially spectacular prospect.

As we celebrate their success, our greater goal must remain a secure, long-term, reasonably priced, clean energy supply for as much of Alaska as possible — energy that allows our communities to thrive.

It is imperative we continue planning toward that goal. Alaska’s future isn’t about North Slope gas over Cook Inlet gas, security for Anchorage over Fairbanks, exports to Asia over North America. And it’s not about a Band-Aid size fix that leaves the same issues on the table for years to come.

We need all of the options to play out in an overall solution that promises longevity, security, and growth. We must develop a healthy in-state market that delivers gas to consumers and allows exports that help producers maximize the value of their investments. But most of all, we need a strong, central organization such as the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) to bring these elements together for the greatest benefit.

Alaska, we have been here before. For decades, we have hoped for gas — for use at home and as a state revenue-generator — yet we’ve never realized that dream. We’ve watched windows of opportunity slam shut as we endlessly debate which gasline project in the acronym alphabet soup of proposals is best.

This is the time for decisive action defining the future Alaskans want — one where the benefits of gas reach more areas of Alaska than ever.

We recently announced plans for legislation enabling AGDC and an in-state gasline. House majority members from across the state were adamant that planning a natural gas future cannot be set aside another legislative session.

Alaskans also heard that in-state gas isn’t only about Anchorage or Kenai. It’s about Fairbanks and the Railbelt, and about the people in communities off the road system who depend on our cities for supplies, educational institutions and health care facilities.

Natural gas is a resource that, by our Constitution, is to be developed for the maximum benefit of Alaskans. While we may not be able to weave a gasline network touching every village and town, we can and should do more to increase the benefits of natural gas throughout Alaska.

AGDC can be the organization that gets the job done. The main mission for Dan Fauske and his top-notch team at AGDC is the in-state line established by Speaker Mike Chenault’s House Bill 369 in 2010. Our legislative package will empower AGDC to keep the momentum rolling on those plans that are well underway. We believe AGDC has demonstrated tremendous leadership and project management, and we need look no further for a vehicle to take us into a natural gas future.

Our goal is to empower AGDC to be nimble, innovative, and responsive to major shifts in supply and demand around the world, for the greatest benefit of Alaska. If the new Cook Inlet find is as huge as some suggest, we need to consider building a line running north to Fairbanks, allowing the Interior to build out its gas infrastructure as we continue developing another line linking the North Slope.

That may be the exact course AGDC would elect to pursue, given the authority to do so. To reach that point, we must enable, empower and encourage AGDC, maintaining the momentum and world-class work we’ve seen so far.

Alaskans heard Gov. Sean Parnell talk recently about the need for humility and flexibility as he pursues alignment of an in-state gasline with the AGIA-sponsored project. Our legislation will position AGDC to be a strong partner in an aligned, commercial project, if that becomes a viable solution. We support that alignment, but we’re also unwilling to stand by and hope for the best. By empowering AGDC and aligning other state efforts, such as ANGDA, we will also be prepared to proceed with a stand-alone, in-state gasline.

Acting decisively and with a unified voice today, we can usher a natural gas future into Alaska, regardless of when the next window opens to the Outside world.

• Chenault, R-Nikiski, is in his second term as speaker of the Alaska House. He was elected in 2000 to represent the western Kenai Peninsula’s District 34. Hawker, R-Anchorage, was elected in 2002 to represent District 32, ranging from Eagle River through Anchorage to Girdwood, Whittier and Hope. He served two years as House Finance Committee co-chairman and is now the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee chairman.

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