Hearing scheduled in gas line dispute

Posted: Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A judge has scheduled a hearing today on his order for Gov. Frank Murkowski to release a natural-gas pipeline contract with three oil companies.

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Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks on Friday ordered the public release of the contract on the financial terms to recover the 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas on the North Slope.

Weeks agreed with state Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, that there was no reason for the contract to remain confidential.

But the governor's office has not yet made the deal with the three oil companies public.

The attorney general's office requested Tuesday's hearing, saying the Murkowski administration and BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips are still in negotiations and was unsure about what to release under the court's order.

The governor has repeatedly said he would release the contract on Wednesday to begin the public review process under the Alaska Stranded Gas Development Act.

State Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said the Murkowski administration continues to stall in defiance of Weeks' order to release the contract.

"The inaction over the weekend has been troubling," French said Monday. "It's not clear to me that they intend to release the contract on Wednesday."

Murkowski plans to call a special legislative session to begin that day, in which legislators would consider changes to the Stranded Gas Development Act to allow the administration to negotiate oil taxes as well as gas to include in the contract

French sued for the immediate release of the contract, saying he needed to see how it fit with an oil and gas production tax bill the Legislature is now considering.

Murkowski plans to incorporate the provisions of the tax proposal into the gas contract.

The contract is believed to be a key step toward building a $25 billion natural-gas pipeline from the North Slope to Canada and markets in the Midwest.

The session ends Tuesday at midnight, and the tax bill was pending on the House floor. The bill will die if it does not pass the Legislature by midnight, but it could be included in the special session.

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