Cook Inlet has enough gas for now, state study finds

STUDY: State says no need for panic, there's time to fix problem.

December 21, 2009 

Despite recent public debate about future natural gas shortages in Southcentral Alaska, the Cook Inlet area contains enough known natural gas to supply the region's energy needs for a decade or longer, according to a new study by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

The department's staff reviewed data from the 28 producing gas fields in Cook Inlet and estimated that roughly 1.14 trillion cubic feet of gas in those fields remains to be tapped.

The 47-page study, begun last spring and published Monday, did not address some key challenges for Cook Inlet, such as the declining production of its wells and regional utilities' concern about meeting peak consumer demand for gas during long, cold snaps.

The problem with Cook Inlet gas production is that it has gone static: The producers are drilling no more wells than it takes to meet their contractual obligations to supply the utilities, said Kevin Banks, director of the DNR's Oil and Gas Division.

That aside, Banks said the study's findings demonstrate that Alaskans do not need to be in "panic mode" about a gas shortage in the near-term. State and regional decision-makers have time to deliberate about what to do about the problem, Banks said.

The study doesn't tell Cook Inlet's gas producers anything they can't find out on their own, said Tony Izzo, a local energy consultant and former president of Enstar Natural Gas Co., the region's gas utility.

But it provides valuable information for state decision makers and the region's utilities that use or distribute gas, he said.

It could assist them, for example, in decisions on how they should or shouldn't invest their money, he said, noting that the state's utilities have been looking at projects like a North Slope bullet pipeline to supply gas to Southcentral and hydroelectric developments. Those are long-term projects that won't address Southcentral's gas challenge in the next five to 10 years, he said.

"This study confirms, more so for the decision makers, that we might not need to go anywhere else to find the energy that we are seeking" for the next decade, Izzo said.

Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.

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