Alaskans, Canadians talk pipeline

Cooperative solution sought by lawmakers pushing different plans

Posted: Tuesday, August 21, 2001

FAIRBANKS - A delegation of Alaska lawmakers is touring Western Canada to talk with Canadian government leaders about a proposed natural gas pipeline.

The trip, which began Monday, comes on the heels of a consultant's warning that Alaskans should work more cooperatively with the Canadians or risk losing the proposed project altogether.

Over the course of four days members of the Joint Committee on Natural Gas Pipelines will visit Whitehorse, Yukon Territory; Yellowknife, Northwest Territories; Edmonton, Alberta; and Victoria, British Columbia.

"Instead of guessing what each other is doing we will sit down face to face," said Kasilof Republican Sen. John Torgerson, who chairs the legislative gas pipeline committee.

Torgerson would like to see a joint U.S.-Canadian committee address issues about the natural gas pipeline.

The stance of Canadian officials will be influential in determining whether and how a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope is built. Should the line be constructed to the Lower 48, then two-thirds of the pipe would have to run through Canadian territory.

Ed Small, a state-hired consultant with Cambridge Energy Research Associates, told the legislative pipeline committee last month that Alaska should take a conciliatory stance in talks with the Canadians. Discord could kill the proposed project, he said.

Torgerson and his fellow Alaska legislators, including Fairbanks Reps. John Davies and Hugh Fate, likely will be well-received in the Yukon Territory but could encounter some friction in the Northwest Territories.

The Yukon Territory is pushing for a route from the North Slope down the Alaska Highway to the Lower 48. That's the same route that Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles has embraced enthusiastically.

British Columbia so far has remained largely silent on pipeline issues.

But Stephen Kafkwi, premier of the Northwest Territories, has strongly criticized the Alaska Legislature for passing a law that seeks to ban the "over-the-top" pipeline route.

The proposed over-the-top route would bypass Alaska by shipping the North Slope gas reserves offshore to the Canadian Arctic then south through Canada to market in the Lower 48.

Kafkwi is lobbying for the route because it would run through the Northwest Territories' Mackenzie Valley and thus allow gas in that area to be tapped as part of the North Slope pipeline project.

Another possible bone of contention during the Alaska lawmakers' trip this week is the pledge made by the premier of Alberta to strip petrochemicals out of the pipeline on its way to the Lower 48.

That could conflict with hopes that the pipeline could start an Alaska petrochemical industry. Williams Petroleum is studying whether construction of the gas pipeline would make it feasible to build a large petrochemical plant in North Pole.

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