My turn: There are reasons to delay a gas pipeline

Posted: Friday, November 03, 2006

We are being inundated by advertising aimed either at the proposed natural gas pipeline or electing our new governor. The gas ads I have seen or heard come directly from oil and gas companies or their contractors touting the urgent need for a pipeline and opposing the gas reserve tax.

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In the governor's race, much ado is being made over the candidates' ability to negotiate the deal for a pipeline. Since statehood, Alaska's leaders have always arrived at contracts that have, for the most part, benefited all Alaskans. Nevertheless, I do not recall any one individual being called on to handle the negotiations on their own.

Does the Alaska Constitution require the governor to be sole negotiator? Shouldn't all Alaskans be represented at the bargaining table, instead of the 40 percent who cast their ballot for the next governor? (In a three-way race, 40 percent usually wins.) The best deal for all Alaskans can be realized with a team representing the diversity and unique makeup of Alaska. Additionally, it would be less likely that, after disbanding, the team would be hired as "consultants" by the oil and gas industry.

The advertisements against the oil reserve tax all seem to come from oil and gas companies, mysterious groups with friendly names (such as the Alliance in Anchorage), or groups that would have the most to gain from the gas line project, such as support and service industries in the energy field.

All of these ads fail to mention the route of the pipeline, the benefits to all Alaskans or the possible effects of a post-pipeline depression similar to that of the late 1970s and '80s, when idle boom workers suddenly found themselves without the lucrative income enjoyed during construction. High unemployment, an increase in loan delinquencies and defaults, and the increase in crime were all effects from completion of the oil pipeline.

The jobs created by a natural gas pipeline, if held by Alaskans, will create a shortage of workers for other construction projects in the state. The state currently has a shortage of skilled workers for projects underway now. Where will the 20,000 to 30,000 people come from to fill those positions created by the gas line? And where will they go after completing these projects?

Another question is, if natural gas prices fall, is there a market for our gas? Will they still build it at those lower prices?

On the flip side, are there any reasons to postpone the line?

From a producer's standpoint, there cannot be a delay, because it forces construction costs to increase and wages to be higher. As with any major project, a billion today is two billion next year.

If the price of gas should continue to rise, holding on to the gas only makes it more valuable. As a result, Alaska's realized moneys will also increase.

The ultimate benefit of delaying the construction could be that, with $30 billion in the bank currently, in a few years we could build the line on our own. We could decide for ourselves what route to take and how to get inexpensive energy to our residents.

Alaskans should have the least expensive energy costs in the nation, not the most expensive. The amount of energy used by our entire population is merely a bubble in the gas line for the oil and gas companies making billions of dollars in profits every three months.

To diversify our economy further, energy costs must be inexpensive to attract startup businesses and industries. As we have experienced with oil, gas production will decrease and diversification is the best way to avoid the boom-and-bust economy of oil and gas.

Yes, the gas line is a worthy project, but at what cost? Allowing one individual to determine our fate, being intimidated by threats of litigation, continued high-energy costs, the "I want an Oompa-Loompa now" syndrome and an influx of out-of-state workers is not my idea of Alaska, and I hope not yours.

• Mike McCurley is an electronics technician in Juneau.

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