FAIRBANKS -- Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is concerned about federal legislation proposed by the oil industry to streamline permits for a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope.
The legislation could give the companies an expedited permit review if they choose to bypass Alaska by crossing the Beaufort Sea and then heading south through Canada, a route Stevens opposes.
"It was characterized to me as giving the (companies) the final decision on where the route would go for the pipeline, and I am opposed to that," Stevens said in a visit to Fairbanks this week.
"We're already on record that we do not want that northern route, and I would not support legislation that would give anyone the power to make that decision," he said.
Stevens said he had not examined the draft legislation. But he said it was being reviewed by his staff and that of fellow Alaska Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski.
The draft legislation was drawn up by Exxon Mobil, BP and Phillips Petroleum, the three companies studying whether to build the pipeline. The companies, which own the bulk of the gas on the North Slope, say the draft legislation is about regulations, not routes.
The companies have presented the draft bill to the White House, Alaska's congressional delegation, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who heads the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Stevens shared his concerns about the draft with state lawmakers who were in Fairbanks for hearings of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Natural Gas Pipelines.
John Katz, the state's Washington, D.C.-based director of federal relations, told the joint committee the draft would place a "significant amount" of control over the process in the hands of the companies.
He noted that in the late 1970s, Congress enacted the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Act to streamline the permit process for a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Lower 48 via the Alaska Highway.
"The (companies') amendments would allow the application of an expedited process to any route," Katz said.
The other route being considered by the oil companies would ship the gas across the Beaufort Sea, then south through Canada to the Lower 48.
A bill passed by the Alaska Legislature and signed by Gov. Tony Knowles prohibits the state from issuing permits for any pipeline along the northern route. Similar legislation has been introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican.
Fairbanks Democratic Rep. John Davies, who serves on the legislative pipeline committee, said Thursday that the companies' draft legislation appears to mandate that Congress authorize a pipeline so long as certain standards are met, no matter what the route.
"It really appears at first blush to put the (companies) in the driver's seat," Davies said.
Representatives of the oil companies told the committee that the draft legislation is neutral on a route because the companies are still figuring out the technical and economic aspects of both proposals.