Alaska editorial: Point Thompson decision belongs to next governor

Posted: Monday, October 30, 2006

This editorial appeared in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman:

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As the days pass and the November election looms closer, three major candidates for governor continue to press their cases for grabbing the reins of state from Gov. Frank Murkowski when his term expires in January. For his part, Murkowski continues to press the case for his gas pipeline contract, although few outside the oil industry appear to be paying much attention anymore.

No matter how disagreeable Alaskans may find individual terms of the contract or the secretive nature of the negotiations that led to its completion, they should at least appreciate the effort that went into it and the framework for a successful plan that the contract could represent.

It must be something of an anti-climax for Murkowski. Despite his inability to close the deal, he has gotten the state far closer to a real deal than anyone before him. For that, he deserves a lot of credit.

Now, though, it is time to back off and let the next administration take over. That includes making a decision on Point Thompson.

Lying about 55 miles east of the Prudhoe Bay field, Point Thompson contains extensive proven reserves of natural gas, which were discovered in 1977. It has been under the control of Exxon for much of the interim and has been a flashpoint for controversy in recent years because it has remained undeveloped since the lease was awarded.

The current administration generously has allowed Exxon to continue sitting on the gas reserves there, even after the company was ruled in default of the lease terms a year ago. One of more than 20 extensions given to the oil giant for putting a Point Thompson development plan on the table expired Friday, Oct. 20.

Critics of the lease say it provides a valuable lesson in the dangers of not applying a timetable for development. Sarah Palin, front-runner in the race for governor, has gone further, calling the off-limits field an embarrassment. While Alaskans try to convince the nation to open ANWR, she says, a viable gas field remains closed.

There is little disagreement that a gas pipeline represents a huge piece of the puzzle to a prosperous future for all Alaskans. All three major candidates for governor have different ideas about the best plan for a gas pipeline.

But they all agree that Point Thompson gas is critical to the success of any plan. They also agree that repossessing the field and putting it out to competitive bidding again is likely to be part of whatever plan is finalized.

For that reason alone, we believe the governor should refrain from binding the next administration to any new arrangement on Point Thompson.

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