If North Slope production ceases, Seattle will miss us

Posted: Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Seattle Times editorial page editor, James Vesely, wrote on July 30:

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"The upcoming fall election for governor may ease the tension between Seattle and Alaska if former Gov. Tony Knowles is elected again."

Vesely was referring to Knowles being a Democrat who might get along with Democrat-dominated Seattle, which opposes Alaska development, especially oil production on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain.

He won't have to wait until fall. Alaska's primary election on Aug. 22 will tell a lot, and Alaskans will tell it.

The issue: Do Alaskans want a natural gas pipeline? The only Alaska gubernatorial candidate who has a contract leading to one is Gov. Frank Murkowski.

Other candidates can say they have a better idea - start all over and seek someone else to build some kind of a line, or consider some gasless proposal. The fact is there are no other feasible proposals for building the natural gas pipeline because there is no other gas. The three North Slope producers the governor negotiated with for a contract - BP, Exxon and ConocoPhillips - are the only ones with gas. It is in Prudhoe Bay land they leased from the state for the oil they are now producing.

Murkowski's contract has been given to the Legislature along with recommended amendments resulting from more than 2,000 comments received in recent public hearings. The lawmakers now can confer with oil company representatives and amend and approve a contract.

Senate President Ben Stevens suggests that if the lawmakers cannot agree on the contract that it be given to the voters in the November general election. That's unnecessary.

When Alaskans vote Aug. 22, it will be for the governor and the pipeline contract he has negotiated over two years, or for an uncertain future. Simple.

If lawmakers fail to pass legislation raising oil taxes and fail to approve terms of the gas line contract in this special session, it will be hard to go home and alibi about what voters already know - no contract means no pipeline.

As for Knowles and Democrats taking over Alaska politics in November, it's doubtful.

Alaskans only have to ask themselves before they vote:

• Do we want to go back to a smaller ferry system by selling the Taku as the Knowles administration proposed? It was that little workhorse that rescued travelers and five vans of seafood in Wrangell and Petersburg and kept them on schedule when the Bellingham-bound Columbia had to bypass those ports because of engine trouble.

• Do we want to abandon the roads to resources program that is building roads to mineral deposits near Nome, building roads to timber near Ketchikan and at the same time building roads in urban areas of Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau and throughout the state?

•Do we want to go back to an administration that opposes opening state land to Alaskans? Murkowski approved a grant of 250,000 acres of land to the University of Alaska that UA can sell to Alaskans. That grant had been vetoed by the previous governor.

• Do we want to go back to a larger bureaucracy in Juneau versus workers in the field serving Alaskans? Murkowski reduced the administrators in the Department of Public Safety so there are 37 more troopers in the field.

• Do we want to go back to an administration that ignores the huge deficit accruing to state and local governments in retirement systems or stay with an administration that seeks to correct the problem regardless of the governor's popularity over a solution?

• Do we want to go back to inactivity in promoting power interties in Alaska as the fuel prices skyrocket, or increase other generation sources and extend interties promoted by Murkowski?

•Do we want to continue forward or go backward?

Incidentally, before we criticize oil companies for high prices and profits, or accuse them of ripping off the state in the proposed gas pipeline contract, check the Alaska Permanent Fund Web site.

The Alaska Permanent Fund - the people of Alaska - own 3 million shares of ExxonMobil that we bought for $91 million and that are now worth $181 million. We hold 930,000 shares of ConocoPhillips, purchased at $27 million and now worth $61 million, and we hold 11 million shares of BP, purchased for $86 million and now worth $126 million. Not bad. The amount in dividends paid to us Alaskans, part owners of those companies, won't be available until September, but it will be substantial. Should we buy more to have more say in those companies' operations?

If the current lawmakers screw up the gas pipeline deal as Prudhoe Bay oil production drops further, or ends without a gas marketing backup, Alaskans will have a good reason to throw the rascals out, along with their baseless claims of something better.

As for Seattle, constantly at odds with Alaskans: If Alaska North Slope production ceases thanks to inactive Alaska legislators and unthinking Washington state members of Congress, Washington refineries can buy their oil from Russia's Sakhlin Island. Sakhlin residents do little business with Puget Sound so Seattle will miss us and miss their dollars that go to Moscow instead of back to Seattle.

• Lew M. Williams Jr. is the retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News who has been a Southeast Alaska journalist since 1946.



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