Public asks for more time on gas contract

Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A handful of Alaska residents weighing in on the state's proposed natural gas contract Tuesday night said the Legislature needs more time to review the deal.

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Of the seven people that testified in the public hearing, most supported a gas pipeline that would only be within Alaska's borders, not the proposed line set to cross through Canada.

The statewide teleconference was the first of three planned for this month and June as part of the 45-day public comment period set aside to seek input on the contract.

The state is negotiating a deal to get major oil producers - ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and BP - to build a $19 billion to $27 billion pipeline to send 35 trillion cubic feet of North Slope gas to markets in Canada and possibly Chicago.

While Alaska oil fields are believed to be drying up, the natural gas pipeline is expected to have a life of 35 years or more and generate about $70 billion for state coffers. The 3,600-mile gas line also would generate about 9,000 new jobs for the state.

The contract was released by the governor earlier this month for the Alaska Legislature to review and lawmakers are expected to vote on the contract sometime this summer or later this year.

Given the complexity of the 352-page contract and the issues that are already surfacing, testifiers said the best thing lawmakers could do is get out of Juneau.

"Please get out of that pressure cooker you are in and come back to the cities and the villages throughout the state and talk to us and find out where we are at on this thing," said J.R. Langman, of Anchorage.

Another caller, Arthur Almon, of Anchorage, suggested the Legislature wait five months to discuss the bill to see how a different administration may handle the deal, if Gov. Frank Murkowski chooses not to run again or does not win a re-election.

Phoning from Ketchikan, Byron Charles said the contract did not appear to benefit Southeast Alaska, other than any revenue deposited into the Alaska Permanent Fund that may boost dividend checks.

Ideally, the pipeline should benefit all Alaska businesses, he said. But because a large portion of the pipe will run through Canada, many Alaska communities will not benefit.

"If this project was to go through the Southeast panhandle, the growth would be endless," Charles said.

And then there is the issue of local labor. The state is gearing up for massive training programs to send people to work on the construction.

"But what are they going to do with their trades and skills after the pipeline has been completed?" Charles asked.

An "all-Alaska" route proposed by an in-state group would build a much shorter line to Valdez where the gas would be liquefied and shipped to markets on the West Coast.

Some callers said they prefer this option because the state would not have to iron out issues with Canada and would have more control of the project.

The Murkowski administration and the producers have dismissed the proposal by saying it would earn less money and the gas would be difficult to sell in a competitive West Coast market.

"They have not said that they can't make a profit shipping gas to Valdez. They said they can't make enough profit," Almon said.

Following the public meetings, the draft contract and draft fiscal-interest finding document will be finalized and submitted to the Legislature for its approval later this summer.

Two more statewide teleconferences are planned for May 30 and June 5, each running from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. via the Alaska Legislative Information Offices. Residents can phone in by calling (888) 295-4546.

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• Andrew Petty can be reached at


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