FAIRBANKS A U.S. House committee has approved language that would block federal permits for any natural gas pipeline that runs from Prudhoe Bay directly east into Canada.
Meanwhile, North Slope Inupiat Eskimos on Thursday called on Alaska's big oil companies to abandon the idea of building a natural gas pipeline through the Beaufort Sea to Canada.
Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, asked for the provision, which was added to an energy bill Wednesday night during a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Piping gas east from Prudhoe Bay across the Beaufort Sea and then down the MacKenzie River valley in Canada would be cheaper than bringing it south to Fairbanks and then down the Alaska Highway, a BP Alaska executive said Wednesday.
A state economist said the Beaufort Sea route could save $2 billion on the $15 billion to $20 billion project.
But Young said the oil companies have to consider the politics.
"It doesn't matter if there's a cheaper route if you can't get it built," he said. "A north-south route through the state is the most realistic way to build a gas pipeline, and it's the most realistic way to ensure that Alaska gains the most benefit from its own gas."
Both Gov. Tony Knowles and the Alaska Legislature oppose the northern route, saying it offers too few benefits to Alaska.
The North Slope Borough, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. all oppose a possible offshore route through the Beaufort Sea.
"If (the oil companies) choose the Beaufort (route), we will oppose that project with all the resources available to us. We will fight," said Charles Neokuk, a Barrow whaling captain who spoke on behalf of the whaling commission.
A natural gas pipeline along the Alaska Highway is the only realistic route, Young told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A right of way for the Alaska Highway route, secured by pipeline companies in the early 1980s, is still valid.
Young's amendment says the federal government cannot grant a "license, permit, lease, right of way, authorization or other approval" for any natural gas line from Prudhoe Bay built in the Beaufort Sea or on its shoreline.