Construction projects are a hallmark of the summer months in Fairbanks, with workers on new buildings and road projects around the city. But this summer will see the beginning of some different construction. And while it will involve disruptions on a good many streets, we’re happy to see it finally get underway.
Starting this summer and continuing the next, Fairbanks Natural Gas plans to lay 30 miles of natural gas distribution pipe in local neighborhoods. The work is funded by a $15 million loan FNG received from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the first fruit of the $350 million in state funds and loan guarantees that Gov. Sean Parnell proposed and the legislature approved in 2013 for gas liquefaction, trucking and distribution to Interior communities.
The Interior Gas Utility, which will serve the borough outside of the Fairbanks city limits, isn’t far behind FNG in their planning for building out gas distribution. Yesterday, IGU released a request for proposals for teams to design 80 miles of natural gas piping for neighborhoods in the North Pole area. It’s the first phase of a six-year plan for the utility to build out distribution to the borough’s high-density areas, starting in North Pole and working counterclockwise around the greater Fairbanks area before finishing on Chena Ridge several years from now.
While all of the plans, designs and schematics are good to see, what’s better still is boots on the ground. Interior residents are rightly skeptical of the prospect of gas delivery being a reality, as companies began promising the imminent availability of low-cost natural gas in the 1950s. Politicians and energy companies have been championing the cause ever since, with plenty of hot air but little in the way of actual progress toward delivery. As distribution lines start to go into the ground this year and the next, there will be progress that people in Fairbanks and North Pole can see with their own eyes after decades of waiting.
This isn’t to say that everything will be smooth sailing from here on out. There are still plenty of hurdles to clear before gas trucking is a reality, from the construction of the North Slope liquefaction plant to the logistics of the trucks themselves and storage facilities where gas will be stored once it arrives.
Even the natural gas trucking plan isn’t intended to be a long-term solution but a relatively stopgap measure until a larger delivery method, like a pipeline, comes online. There are still plenty of unresolved issues to take care of before those plans come to fruition.
But as the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu famously said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” or, in this case, a single piece of pipe. After plenty of talk, conjecture, dreaming and planning, it will be good to see that piece of pipe put in place.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,