Voices of Alaska: Details crucial in natural gas development plan

  • By Reps. Mike Chenault and Mike Hawker
  • Sunday, March 29, 2015 12:58pm
  • Opinion

We want to work with our new Governor to progress this great State forward, especially knowing the difficult times before us. We respect that he is our Governor, duly elected by Alaskans, and we appreciate the respectful acknowledgement that we, too, are representatives duly elected by Alaskans. We all have Alaskans’ best interests at heart, and want a future of prosperity and opportunity in our State.

While we believe we share many of the same goals and values as the Governor, we differ as to the approach to natural gas development that will deliver the greatest benefits to Alaskans.

Let us be very clear about what we want: We want to commercialize natural gas for the highest value possible, for the Permanent Fund and for the Treasury, so that every Alaskan may share in the wealth of our resources. We want affordable natural gas to flow to our communities that still suffer under the fluctuating prices of fuel oil. And we want a project that includes the necessary elements — including participation of the North Slope producers and the State — for real success, as soon as responsible project engineering and permitting allows.

The Legislature found that project with the Alaska LNG Project, in which the state is a 25 percent owner.

But we also preserved our ability to pursue a different project, if the Alaska LNG Project does not progress into the next development stage. We have that in the 36-inch line that the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation has developed. It is in prime position to alter if necessary — and if the Alaska LNG Project does not prove viable, we’ll know what adaptations we must make in order to offer a viable project. To increase its size now, to an arbitrary, unsupported volume, is not a prudent use of funds. That does not provide us a viable alternative should Alaska LNG not progress.

The Governor has indicated he sees success in a different framework. Unfortunately, to date, neither he nor his administration have shared those details with us and with the Alaska public. He submitted a letter to the Senate Resources Committee on Friday with some explanations for his alternative approach, and we appreciate that. But Alaskans need to know details. What about the LNG component — who owns that? And the pipeline — is the state to shoulder 100 percent of the risk and cost? Who will ship gas, if one or more of the producers remain engaged in Alaska LNG? If all 3 producers are not partners, how will the state determine its gas share — and is it enough to support our level of equity ownership? We want to better understand the terms and structure of his proposal in order to conduct the rigorous vetting and analysis that will allow us to make an informed, responsible decision on a forward course.

The government process is about thorough, open review of ideas, in the form of legislation, that leads to policies. We hold hearings; explore details; call for experts to analyze and model impacts; vet each and every aspect; hear from the public; undertake legal review; and, finally, debate on whether a policy should be adopted.

It is how Alaskans came to be owners of the Alaska LNG Project; through a deliberate, well-investigated decision.

Certainly, we would have preferred not to have introduced legislation — House Bill 132 — to temporarily restrict an alternative, conflicting approach and to keep Alaska LNG on track. However, we were compelled to, out of grave concern that the Administration’s approach would threaten the viability of the tremendous opportunity before Alaska in the Alaska LNG Project. A project that is on time, on budget, and on track to success. And unfortunately, the few details offered by the Governor’s letter reaffirm that it is more imperative than ever to pass HB 132, as his approach clearly creates a competing alternative that threatens the state’s investment in and the success of Alaska LNG.

The details of any project are crucial. At stake are the value of our royalty gas, which feeds the Permanent Fund; our state share in production, property and income taxes that support the treasury; the availability and cost of gas for Alaskans; and future North Slope resource development. Variations on the SB 138 framework can have significant consequences. These details were not part of the Governor’s letter — and we must have these details in order to make a deliberative decision on natural gas policy, and the responsible fiscal choices our constituents demand.

We want to work together on a path forward that is responsible, allows for public understanding and input, and does not recklessly waste state money pursuing options that lack a proven, commercial foundation. Competing with ourselves, while confusing our partners and the markets, is not in our best interests.

Speaker of the House Mike Chenault represents Niksiki and Rep. Mike Hawker represents Anchorage in the Alaska House of Representatives.

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