Senate enters final days on gas line vote

State Senate prepared to vote today on TransCanada proposal

Posted: Friday, August 01, 2008

The Alaska Senate is prepared to vote today on whether the state should award TransCanada Corp. a license to pursue a natural gas pipeline project.

The 20 members are scheduled to meet at 11 a.m., giving them just under 37 hours to decide whether TransCanada Corp. should receive an exclusive license to pursue a project backed by Gov. Sarah Palin.

The House approved the measure last week, but the Senate's energy committee didn't pass the bill until late Wednesday night, one week later.

The Senate was originally scheduled to meet Thursday morning, but did not meet until late afternoon, and that floor session lasted 20 minutes.

Senate President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, said that contrary to some criticism earlier in the week, there has been no effort to delay the vote.

Green said the Senate is maintaining the schedule she and Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, outlined publicly last week, and that was to take a vote by Friday.

"We are pretty much on schedule," Green said. "These things take time, and you don't want to rush it."

Rules Chairman Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said he expects some lawmakers to offer amendments. Should they pass, it would require the House to support those, but time could run out before the House would vote.

"I'm sort of hoping they might be defeated because I'm concerned about sending an amended bill to the House," Stevens said. "I'd rather send a clean bill without any amendments on it. But, I think things will hold from there. Time will tell."

The license does not guarantee construction, but many lawmakers believe it's the first step toward ending a decades-long battle to open up North Slope natural gas for use on the North American market.

The license calls for TransCanada to move forward on federal permitting applications for the 1,715-mile pipeline that is estimated to cost between $26 billion and $30 billion.

The approval comes with up to $500 million in seed money and sets up a race with a late entry from a joint venture between oil giants BP and ConocoPhillips.

The two companies recently told Wall Street analysts they have begun field work and will remain on course with their project.

The project, called Denali, was proposed in April, five months after TransCanada submitted its plan under the bid requirements of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act that the companies found to be too restrictive.

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