This 2018 photo shows, then-Alaska Gov. Bill Walker addresses delegates at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage. (AP Photo / Mark Thiessen File)

This 2018 photo shows, then-Alaska Gov. Bill Walker addresses delegates at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage. (AP Photo / Mark Thiessen File)

Opinion: Now is the time for Alaska’s gasline

  • Friday, November 20, 2020 1:21pm
  • Opinion

By Bill Walker

I am pleased to be a founding member of the newly formed Alaska Gasline & LNG, LLC, alongside Alaska Laborers’ Local 341, longtime Fairbanks businessman Bernie Karl, and former Alaska Gasline Development Corporation President Keith Meyer. With AGDC recently completing critical permitting and a lowered cost estimate, it declared the Alaska gas line project competitive, confirmed the market as the Asian market, and approved a plan to transfer the project to a private entity to be selected by the end of 2020 with transition to that entity by June 2021.

At its April 9, 2020 meeting, the AGDC board adopted a strategic plan to direct state involvement in the project through June 2021. Underlying assumptions of the plan were that the state would not continue as the sole project sponsor past December 31, 2020 and if “there is not sufficient interest from strategic parties” to lead the development effort, AGDC will publicly solicit interest from others to take over the project. Should no interested party emerge, “AGDC will put the Alaska LNG project assets up for sale.” As of this date, a strategic party has not been identified and the mission of AGLNG is to form a private consortium to be in position to accept leadership and advance the gasline and LNG export project to completion by 2028, the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the Prudhoe Bay oil field. We will be seeking other interested parties and individuals, from across Alaska and beyond, to participate in the ownership of the company. We also plan to reimburse AGDC its expenditures from inception, at the project’s financial close.

Bringing our vast experience from LNG project development and market engagement, industry, and labor, we believe in the commercial viability of the project, know first-hand the receptivity to Alaskan LNG in the global arena, realize the economic impact to all Alaskans, and are ready to move forward. With construction in Alaska, gas for Alaskans, and decades of reliable service ahead, there is no other project that will do more for the State’s deficit, Alaskan businesses, job creation and low cost clean energy for Alaskan homes and businesses than this project.

There have been several attempts to build the Alaska gasline. In the 1970’s, Governor Hammond sanctioned an effort by Republican Governor Hickel and Democratic Governor Egan. Together they formed the Yukon Pacific Corporation, secured Asian market interest and senior federal and state permits but could not gain access to the North Slope gas. This was followed by several iterations of having the North Slope producers lead the effort but a huge disincentive is the federally regulated financial return allowed from owning pipe transportation systems. This is why these companies typically do not own pipelines in other U.S. projects. Next, under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, the State hired TransCanada to permit a line through Canada to take Alaska’s gas to the Lower 48. That also proved to be a failed model in both destination and economic viability due to the L48 shale gas boom. It also proved that not only is the Lower 48 not our market, it is our competition for LNG export.

During my administration we continued with the direction of the Parnell administration which created AGDC to bring a gasline to tidewater at Nikiski for LNG export. When I was asked by the North Slope producers in 2016 if the State would consider taking over the lead of the project, I accepted. Then AGDC, following a nationwide search, hired an industry recognized gasline/LNG terminal project development leader, Keith Meyer. Keith brought 40 years of experience in the gas pipeline and LNG arena, including the development of a pipeline across the Andes mountains as well as in building the largest LNG receipt terminal in the Western Hemisphere.

Together, we introduced the “Alaska LNG Opportunity” to the Asian gas markets at the highest levels of government and business. We made personal presentations to South Korea’s President Moon, South Viet Nam’s President Tran Dai Quan, Japan’s Prime Minister Suga and China’s President XI. Tokyo Gas’s president and top advisors came to Juneau for several days of meetings on the project. We signed separate Project Development Agreements with two of those countries (China and Viet Nam) in the presence of each of their presidents and President Trump. In total AGDC received 14 non-binding letters of interest from Asian companies, including Tokyo Gas, which is how all LNG contract negotiations begin. While we will not start where we left off, we believe we can successfully reengage with these markets.

Over the past two years, under the Dunleavy administration with funding from the Legislature and assistance from our Washington delegation, AGDC has focused successfully on reducing the project costs, completing the permitting process, and has determined the project is competitive. Now that AGDC has taken action to transition the project to private control, we stand ready to move it across the finish line.

There is no time in Alaska’s history when our need for this mega project has been greater. It’s been over half a century since Alaska has had a project of significance. In the federal government’s recent award of the final LNG export license, it referenced the 19,000 construction jobs the project would create. Moreover, the one thing every growing economy in the world has in common is low cost energy. Conversely, the one thing every struggling economy in the world has in common is high cost energy. A large volume gasline would create long-term value-added jobs rather than shipping out of state raw materials along with Alaskan jobs. We could fuel our state ferries with LNG like the B.C. ferries and the list goes on.

The LNG industry is moving on without Alaska; the lower-48 projects are advancing – including Jordan Cove in Oregon, now America’s “other” approved west coast LNG export project, Qatar wants to reclaim its dominant position with a major expansion with ExxonMobil in Texas (Golden Pass LNG), Russia has proclaimed its intent to be a growing LNG supplier, the U.S. government just agreed to lend $5 Billion to the LNG export project in Mozambique off the coast of Africa to move that project to construction with U.S. equipment.

Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be easy but Alaska has significant advantages over the competing LNG projects. We have the gas that is perhaps the largest stranded reservoir of conventional gas without additional wells drilled (not from fracking) in North America. We have close proximity to the markets; 70 critical federal permits and the Pre-FEED (Front End Engineering and Design) is complete. Alaska has the longest tenure of LNG contracts with the Asian markets in LNG history. At one time Alaska had nearly 100% of the Asian LNG market but today we have 0%. That must change.

We are greatly encouraged by the outreach we have received from Alaskans and others on the formation of AGLNG. The clock is running, no other private entity is publicly indicating interest in leading this project and the worst outcome would be the default plan to sell the assets for what history has proven in similar situations, would be for pennies on the dollar. In fact, it would be money well spent for a competitor to swoop in on a fire sale like this to eliminate the competition and thereby forever extinguish Alaska’s best chance for economic stability.

In the final analysis, it comes down to who has the vision, passion, and determination to get this project constructed. Without that driving force, this project will sit on a shelf, get buried in a portfolio of competing projects, or sold for scrap. We have the driving force and are laser focused on getting this project built, not just because of its innumerable benefits but also because we know what Alaska’s future will look like if it is not built and this lifeline of generational opportunities is lost.

It is time for Alaska to get back in the LNG market and put our people and resources to work. We know this project, the market, and Alaska’s opportunity very well. With aggressive, experienced leadership, it is an opportunity within our grasp and we are ready, willing and able to lead it to completion.

• Former Governor Bill Walker is a municipal and oil and gas attorney. He resides in Anchorage with his wife, Donna. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a letter to the editor or My Turn.

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