Long lingering questions about Alaska’s North Slope gasline project should be answered eventually.
The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) has committed to providing more information in January 2018 about its plans to relocate a Nikiski portion of the Kenai Spur Highway, to analyze in October and November how its project may affect Cook Inlet commercial fisheries and to examine other long-lingering questions of how the 807-mile natural gas pipeline it proposes to build from the North Slope to a liquefaction facility and export terminal in Nikiski could impact local employment, public services and industries.
The state-owned corporation set itself these deadlines in response to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which on July 28 gave AGDC 171 questions about socioeconomic and environmental aspects of the gasline project AGDC described in its roughly 50,000-page April 2016 license application to the commission.
The commission gave AGDC 20 days to answer. The response on Friday addressed most questions with a list of future dates, ranging from September 2017 to January 2018, by which coorporation officials intend to respond.
“These requests are not unexpected, especially with an application that exceeds 60,000 pages of information,” AGDC vice president for communications Rosetta Alcantra wrote in an email. “AGDC anticipates there will be additional requests as FERC continues its review. In terms of process, AGDC and its team have developed a response system that first looks at if these inquiries have already been addressed previously. If not, the team identifies existing information that can answer the inquiry. Secondly, if the inquiry requires additional effort, these are provided to FERC in a schedule matrix.”
Also on July 28, another federal permitter of the gasline project, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, announced it will not be evaluating ADGC’s application until the corporation supplies more information about possible impacts to wetlands and waters, which the Army Corps had requested June 16.
“Upon receipt of this information, we will continue our formal evaluation of your application and reopen your file in our database,” wrote Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Sandy Gibson in response to the coorporation’s application.
AGDC is also working on responding to a previous list of 278 questions from FERC about a different section of its license application that mainly concerns geological, safety and engineering details. These requests, issued on July 5, also came with a 20 day deadline, and on July 25, ADGC gave a similar response, anticipating answers at dates between Sept. 1, 2017 and Jan. 2, 2018.
FERC’s latest round of questions concern the environmental and socioeconomic sections of AGDC’s application, including issues project proponents have been publicly uncertain about since beforethe coorporation took over the natural gasline project in December 2016, after an unfavorable economic analysis prompted oil companies BP, Exxon Mobile, and ConnocoPhillips to abandon a previous incarnation of the project, known as AK LNG, in which they’d partnered with AGDC.
One lingering question FERC asked AGDC to address is the corporation’s plan to relocate the Kenai Spur Highway between miles 19.5 and 21, where the highway’s current route overlaps with AGDC’s planned liquefaction plant. AGDC is presently considering about 11 potential highway paths in a plan originally developed by AK LNG that has long left Nikiski residents uncertain about whether the new highway could run through their land, or whether they could lose their existing access to it.
During AGDC’s most recent public meeting in Nikiski in April 2017, vice president Fritz Krusen said his company planned to choose a highway route before finishing its permitting, but after securing outside investment and resuming land acquisition in Nikiski — a process presently delayed by negotiations over land between AGDC and a company set up by the former partners to hold the project’s property, export license and website.
FERC didn’t require AGDC to choose a route before resuming permitting, but it does require the company to submit the criteria used to evaluate alternatives, its plans for managing traffic during the relocation, an estimate of the acreages affected by each alternative broken down by land use and ownership type, and that it “list the businesses, residences, or properties that would permanently lose road access, and describe measures to address that lost access.”
FERC also includes the Kenai Spur Highway in a request that AGDC list structures, residences and commercial areas within 200 feet of its planned construction areas, along with statements of whether or not those structures must be removed.
FERC is requesting a noise and visual impact analysis of the Kenai Spur Highway relocation as well, along with more information on planned residential development within a quarter mile of the Kenai Spur Highway.
AGDC’s response states the corporation will give answers concerning the highway relocation on Jan. 2, 2018. It also committed to providing a plan to manage traffic on the Seward, Sterling, Kenai Spur Highways during its construction on the same date.
FERC also requested information from the company about potential fishery impacts.
“The application does not discuss the role of the salmon fishing industry in Alaska,” FERC officials wrote to ADGC. “Provide a description and analysis of the role that salmon fishing has on local and state economic health and include references used to develop the analysis. In addition, include economic information and analysis that demonstrate the economic value of this industry and how the Project could affect the industry.”
ADGC committed to doing so on Nov. 1, 2017.
FERC also asked the company for “a more detailed explanation of proposed mitigation for gillnet fishing in Cook Inlet, particularly in the Tyonek and Nikiski areas.”
Setnetters presently fish on the Nikiski beach near AGDC’s proposed export terminal, and many have been uncertain about whether they may lose these fishing grounds as the terminal is built. AGDC previously estimated the losses to setnetters during the five years of project construction at about $3.05 million. F
ERC requested that AGDC “describe how the gillnet fishers would be compensated for these economic losses if they cannot find other areas to fish.” AGDC intends to answer on Oct. 1, 2017.
Other FERC questions concern the project’s potential impact on local economies and employment.
ADGC committed to a Nov. 1, 2017 release of a year-by-year breakdown of the number of Alaskan workers who would be among the project’s estimated 16,000-person workforce, an analysis of indirect project employment, a breakdown of how the estimated $7.1 billion construction budget would be spent, an estimate of how many Alaskans would be employed during the pipeline’s operation, and possible effects on housing,
AGDC committed to providing, on Dec. 1, 2017, an analysis of the project’s impact on Alaska’s recreation, tourism and housing industries, and a description of training planned for its Alaska workforce.
Public sector jobs and services were also part of FERC’s questioning, including a request that AGDC “provide a discussion of potential impacts on public infrastructure and services, such as impacts on government workforce and volunteer recruitment and retention if that workforce moves to project work and creates potential gaps in public service.”
The company’s application considers the possibility that high-paying construction and clerical jobs created by pipeline construction could draw workers and volunteers away from law enforcement, teaching, fire, and emergency medical services positions. FERC requested “a quantitive discussion” of this possibility, or references to supporting studies. AGDC intends to respond on Nov. 1, 2017.
Another long-running question in Alaska’s various North Slope gas line plans has been how to compensate local governments for the property held by the pipeline and liquefaction facility, and for the use of local government services. The project’s previous incarnation as AK LNG sought exemption from state taxes, planning instead to compensate municipal governments affected by the pipeline with payments in leu of taxes. Though municipal leaders debated possible ways to assess and distribute these payments as part of the now-inactive Municipal Advisory Gas Project Review Board, no specifics were decided upon.
FERC’s questions also addressed the municipal compensation issue, asking AGDC to consider ways to “mitigate construction impacts on schools, medical facilities, police, fire protection, or utilities,” either through payments in leu of taxes or grants to municipalities, and to “describe the method that would be used to measure the impact, including an explanation of how compensation for each municipality would be determined for each sector.”
AGDC intends to do so on Oct.1, 2017.
AGDC plans to finish its federal permitting by December 2018 and begin constructing the pipeline and liquefaction facility by Jan. 21, 2019, according to Alcantra.
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com