My turn: Cowardice is not an option

Big oil companies face two choices: play by the rules or face our wrath

Posted: Friday, April 06, 2007

ExxonMobil, British Petroleum and ConocoPhillips (the producers) have stated openly that they are prepared to play the hardest of hardball as they negotiate against Alaska. Recently, Alaska's most popular talk-show host wrote an open letter to legislators counseling cowardice in the face of corporate might. But this is not advice governors or legislators are allowed to follow; they have sworn an oath to courageously protect the best interests of Alaska.

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An analysis of the producer's public statements proves that the courage of our elected officials is being sorely tested.

May of 2005, Exxon's chairman states in an interview: "(N)obody is going to build a (gas line) without the producers. You and I know how pipelines get built. The pipeline goes to the bank. The guy at the bank says, what are you going to put in your pipeline? Gas. Do you own the gas? No, I don't own the gas. Well, who does own the gas, and do you have a commitment from them that they are going to put it through the pipeline? Well, no, we don't have that. Then I don't think I'm going to give you much money to build a pipeline."

In other words, Exxon has concocted an ironclad (and, in fact, illegal) strategy to maintain full control of Alaska's gas line future: It will refuse to supply Alaska North Slope natural gas to any project that is does not own or control - regardless of viability - and thereby render that independent project unable to acquire financing.

In January 2006, ConocoPhillips' chairman stated to Wall Street heavy-hitters: "We want to make sure that (the Canadian MacKenzie Delta) pipeline goes before the Alaska gas pipeline. ... And our company, along with (ExxonMobil), are doing everything we can to make this happen."

In other words, Exxon's strategy is not just some speculative, academic exercise. ConocoPhillips and Exxon are actively implementing their strategy: trying to slowdown or kill rival Alaska gas line projects by withholding North Slope gas.

On March 23, in response to questioning from Rep. Doogan, Exxon admits in the House Oil and Gas committee that it cannot independently commit Prudhoe Bay gas to an Alaska gas line without first receiving agreement (read: permission) from the British Petroleum and ConocoPhillips. BP and ConocoPhillips admit later that they can't either.

In other words, obstinacy by one necessarily means refusal by all.

Throughout their March AGIA testimony, ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips refuted none of the contentions I made above and, using threats regarding "failed open seasons," made the ramifications of their position crystal clear for Alaska for Alaskans: They don't give a damn what Alaska says and aren't going to commit North Slope natural gas to any project they don't own or control. And if Alaska doesn't like it, Alaska has two choices: 1) follow the Murkowski line - give-up access to Alaska courts, abdicate regulatory authority, nix Alaska hire, cede state sovereignty and cough up $10-plus billion worth of "fiscal certainty" concessions (and that's just for starters); or 2) fight.

Public servants, particularly elected officials, take an oath: to uphold the law, defend the constitution and protect the rights of the Alaska people. Not "some of the time", not just "when it's easy" and not "only if it means not challenging the producers to court" - but all the time, every time.

ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips have two choices: 1) play by the rules, abide by the law and live up to the obligations to which they willingly agreed when they signed their leases; or 2) face the just wrath of the Alaska people, through the sure might of the state - period.

Alaska's policymakers have three choices: 1) live up to their sworn oaths to defend Alaska and further her interests; 2) face recall or impeachment for failure to do so; or 3) resign - period.

Talk show hosts and their ilk can ignore the law and the best interests of Alaska; they're allowed to be cowards. Governors and legislators are either courageous or ousted - dereliction of duty due to cowardice, when the very future of Alaska will rise or fall on their courage, is not an option.

• Jomo Stewart is the communications director for the Alaska Gasline Port Authority and Fairbanks resident.

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