FAIRBANKS - The Alaska Gasline Port Authority has presented the Murkowski administration with an offer to pay market value for the state's share of the 35 trillion cubic feet of known gas reserves on the North Slope.
The administration says it is considering all deals presented under the Stranded Gas Act. But Jim Whitaker, chairman of the Fairbanks-based port authority, said Gov. Frank Murkowski's office has made clear that it's focused solely on reaching an agreement with the three major oil producers - British Petroleum, Conoco Phillips and ExxonMobil Corp.
The port authority - a municipal consortium led by the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the city of Valdez - hopes to offer the Legislature a more attractive alternative. It also is willing to put the issue in front of the people in a referendum.
"We think a deal with the producers is not in the best interest of the state, so we're being proactive," Whitaker said.
The port authority is trying to finalize a deal with the state by Aug. 10 in order to get the governor to include it along with a proposal from the producers that he hopes to present to the Legislature in an expected special session this fall.
The governor has repeatedly told the public he wants to present a contract for approval to the Legislature before next year's regular session.
"We want to have a decision quickly and a reason why if it's declined," Whitaker said.
What proposals are presented to the Legislature is up to the governor's discretion.
Whitaker said the port authority would call for a statewide referendum on any deal to build a gas pipeline agreed to by the Legislature.
The port authority also wants a ballot initiative that would ask voters what kind of pipeline they want, much like the initiative that formed the port authority.
"We'll try to influence the Legislators and if that doesn't work we'll put the question directly to the people," he said.
Critics say the major oil producers are delaying the development of Alaska's gas in favor of their gas holdings in Russia, Asia, Indonesia and the Middle East.
The governor is expected to announce a deal with the producers in the next couple of weeks.