Legislature hears last public input on gas line before votes start next week

Juneau residents weigh in on plans for natural gas development

Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Alaska Legislature completed the last of a series of public hearings Tuesday on a natural gas pipeline contract that's taken them from Ketchikan to Barrow in the last month.

Next week, the House of Representatives is expected to take its first vote on Gov. Sarah Palin's proposal to issue a license to TransCanada Corp. to develop a natural gas pipeline to bring North Slope gas to market, House Majority Leader Ralph Samuels said Tuesday.

The Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, under which TransCanada has applied for state support, gives the Legislature until Aug. 2 to make a decision.

The public hearing Tuesday evening was the last formal action of the full Legislature before many members head to Anchorage for a conference of state legislators from the West Coast.

Less than a third of the legislators were in attendance to hear testimony in person Tuesday night, but only a handful of Juneau residents showed up to make their opinions known.

Juneau's Henry Stevens said developing Alaska's natural gas would provide the state with a clean burning fuel, while also helping Alaskans with their own heating bills.

"People like me and you have to pay four to five dollars for heating oil," he said.

Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, chaired the special joint legislative committee reviewing the TransCanada proposal.

Turnout at the hearings around the state the lawmakers called a "road show" was less than he hoped for, Huggins said, but many of those testifying thanked the Legislature for the opportunity.

Bill Warren of Nikiski, a retired pipefitter who worked on the trans-Alaska pipeline, praised the open process and contrasted it with that of former Gov. Frank Murkowski.

"I really liked the road show," he said. He urged passage of the TransCanada application, saying it was the best way to protect Alaska's interest against the oil companies that want to build their own pipeline.

"I do not trust the oil cartel at all, they are too big and powerful," he said.

Merritt Pierce of Fairbanks, however, said he had another way of protecting Alaska's interests. He supported an all-Alaska line, exporting liquefied natural gas to Asia through Valdez.

He said the state's possible gas reserves were worth $5 trillion at current market prices in Japan, but only $2.8 trillion at Midwest market prices.

TransCanada is proposing an overland pipeline to the Midwest.

"That's just nuts, why would we want to sell our gas for trillions less," he said.

Anchorage's Jerry McCutcheon urged rejection of TransCanada, saying the company's former partners in another pipeline venture could bring claims against any new project.

"AGIA is a disaster," he said.

Valdez resident James Williams urged an all-Alaska line and LNG export through Valdez as well, saying he didn't want Alaska's gas controlled by Canada.

"As far as I'm concerned they're a hostile nation," he said.

Alan Keech of Tok said those proposing other ways to market Alaska gas had the opportunity under AGIA to propose their own projects. Only TransCanada submitted a qualifying proposal, he said.

"This company has fulfilled its obligations ... you should honor AGIA," he said.

Alfred McKinley of Juneau said many Alaska residents wouldn't be able to work on much of a pipeline through Canada, because those with a drunk driving conviction can't cross the border.

He supported a line to Valdez that even those people would be able to work on.

"Everybody fouls up once or twice," he said.

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