Murkowski heads to pipeline talks

Deal must be struck soon for Alaska Legislature to consider a contract this fall

Posted: Friday, August 26, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Gov. Frank Murkowski has traveled to Texas to negotiate on a natural gas pipeline contract with the heads of the three largest North Slope oil companies.

The face-to-face talks come as a deadline nears for Murkowski to strike a gas line deal in time for the Legislature consider a contract in a special session this fall.

"We're starting to push up against that deadline," said Chuck Logsdon, the state's spokesman for the gas line negotiations.

The state has been negotiating for more than a year with the three major oil companies on the North Slope - BP, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips - on how to build a pipeline to deliver North Slope gas to the Lower 48. Issues include determining taxes and royalties and how the state could own a portion of the pipeline.

Murkowski's trip is a "heightened level of interaction," said spokeswoman Becky Hultberg.

Murkowski brought a team of state negotiators with him to Texas, including Chief of Staff Jim Clark and Mike Menge, the governor's senior adviser on energy issues. The governor arrived in Houston on Wednesday and expects to return to Alaska today, Hultberg said.

Murkowski has repeatedly told the public to expect the contract to be ready so legislators could act then.

A preliminary agreement would be followed by a public comment period, which would last for at least 30 days. Then state officials would have to negotiate any changes needed before a contract goes to the Legislature for a vote.

The special session would likely be scheduled before Thanksgiving.

Murkowski is talking to the oil companies, which are considering a pipeline through Canada to the Lower 48, and the Alaska Gasline Port Authority, a group that is pushing for a pipeline to Valdez. An all-Alaska pipeline would require liquefying the gas and shipping it on tankers.

The gas pipeline negotiations are confidential and the sides would not say how close they are to a deal.

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