A Kenai Peninsula state senator has introduced legislation that would prohibit construction of the northern route under consideration for a North Slope natural gas pipeline, and he's getting a lot of support.
All 19 other senators have signed on as co-sponsors to Sen. John Torgerson's Senate Bill 164, which would prohibit leases under the Right of Way Leasing Act on state-owned submerged lands in the Beaufort Sea.
That would prohibit the northern or "over-the-top" route leading from gas fields east to the Canadian Arctic, one of the major routes under consideration. Another is a southern route down the Alaska Highway.
Torgerson, a Kasilof Republican, said his bill would be a strong move forward to ensure that Alaskans get the maximum benefit from bringing the state's natural gas to market.
"While supporters of the over-the-top route claim it could bring more money to the state's treasury, it won't directly benefit the state's residents, and that is our concern," Torgerson said.
Curtis Thayer, spokesman for the North American Natural Gas Pipeline Group, called the bill "disappointing." BP, Phillips Petroleum and Exxon make up the group and are spending $75 million to determine if a gas line is feasible.
"We need to look at the pros and cons of both routes," Thayer said.
Torgerson said the southern route would ensure that Alaskans will have access to enough natural gas to meet in-state demands.
"Building a pipeline that runs through Alaska would allow in-state gas distribution for residential and commercial use," Torgerson said. "It would also open the door to manufacturing value-added natural gas products, such as fertilizer."
Torgerson said the highway route would provide jobs during construction, operation and maintenance phases and through support services. He said the highway route also would add significant long-term property value to state and local governments.
Thayer said the oil companies must look at all alternatives. Government permitting processes require that the companies review all options, he said, as does the marketplace.
"We're not the only reserves within North America," he said. "We don't have a lock on the market. We have to be economical."
Thayer said the companies could come up with an alternative such as a northern pipeline and a spur to Fairbanks to meet in-state needs rather than running the main pipeline - with a capacity of as much as 4 billion cubic feet per day - down the southern route. Anchorage currently uses 30 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year for 105,000 customers, Thayer said, and it's unlikely that in-state use would double even if every other Alaskan were hooked up with gas from the North Slope.
The main pipeline could be as long as 2,700 miles, affecting Canada and four or more other states.
"Alaska is not the only stakeholder in this," Thayer said.
Bob King, a spokesman for Gov. Tony Knowles, said the governor doesn't disagree with Torgerson's objective.
"The governor has said all along he's for the Alaska Highway route," King said. "He has gone so far as to say the over-the-top route is unacceptable."
But the governor has a different approach, he said.
"If the Legislature is serious about developing the Alaska Highway route, they would fund the governor's request to start the necessary permitting and right-of-way work that needs to be done," King said.
He noted the governor requested $2 million for that work earlier this year in a supplemental budget bill and legislators approved only $600,000.
King also said the state Department of Natural Resources commissioner has the power to deny permits for the northern route if he determines it's not in the state's best interest.