Compass: Here's a clean fuel vision Alaskans can make real

Throughout history visioning along with diligent work has changed our world. Much can be accomplished with a vision. Take for example our state and what one man believed Alaska would someday become and you have Seward's folly. Visions when aligned at the right moment in history can change how we live for the better.

Accepting this, I would put forth that if our state were to grasp the opportunity at hand as Seward first did Alaska could lead the country by becoming the cleanest state in the union.

What follows is an expansion of an idea that was recently highlighted for me in a little read report on liquefied natural gas (LNG) submitted to our Legislature this month by the city of Valdez. Contained in this report is the seed of a vision that not only could provide clean and affordable energy for Alaskans, but also improve our economy and create a cleaner environment. I will endeavor to explain.

Delivery of LNG to the coastal communities of our state could be accomplished with LNG-powered shuttle ships. At least two of these vessels would constitute the "main line" of this service. One for Southeast Alaska, and one for Western and Southcentral Alaska. The rest of the fleet would be compromised of "feeder ships" of various sizes and drafts, designed for the smaller ports that are spread out along our waterfront.

All these vessels could be managed under our current state marine ferry system. By utilizing the state's existing ferry infrastructure and taking ownership of these vessels Alaska would increase its "skin in the game" so to speak. The vessels themselves along with the receiving stations for the LNG facilities in each community would be made "cookie cutter" style thereby minimizing design, installation, and operating costs. These ships and facilities would be built at the same time as the pipeline so each community would be ready to receive product as soon as the gas arrives at our waterfront.

Next, Arctic development. This is not just a futuristic thought. It is upon us. This development must be balanced out with all due regard for the protection of the Arctics unique environment. A good place to start this process would be to require all ships operating in the Arctic to utilize LNG as their principle fuel source so as to minimize their carbon footprints.

Alaska could help make this a reality by 1) using the newly formed Alaska Arctic Policy Commission to create Arctic policy that requires ships operating in the Arctic to utilize LNG as their primary means of propulsion and 2) the establishment of a refueling station designed specifically for these ships. The location of this facility would be near Unimak Pass where more than five thousand other ships annually transit through our state's waters as they engage in ever-growing Pacific Rim trades. By building a world-class re-gasification plant mid way along the Pacific Rim's great circle route Alaska places itself in the confluence of these trades, making our LNG an attractive option for ship owners seeking to save costs and struggling to comply with future emission standards.

The bottom line: While LNG may not be as pure as the driven wind or as harmless as solar power, it is far less toxic to the environment than all other fossil fuels that we now depend on to meet our energy needs. In addition to being clean it is abundant and inexpensive compared with other low sulphur fuels. Moving LNG from a deep water terminus for large volume exports and to the Alaskan population are central to making a new frontier out of the last frontier.

The only real obstacles remaining in our way of achieving this goal are the volume of the pipeline, the size of our imagination(s) and what we believe we can accomplish.

Capt. Pete Garay has spent the last 22 years of his career as a marine pilot working in the remote waters of western Alaska. He was recently appointed to serve on Alaska's newly formed Arctic Policy Commission.