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Alaska Notebook: Another gas line milestone, but the road is long

Gas line closer, again

Everyone applauded this week when the major North Slope petroleum producers and TransCanada said they'd settled on Nikiski as the Southcentral Alaska site for a gas pipeline terminus and natural gas liquefaction plant.

Republicans applauded. Democrats applauded. So did the governor and our U.S. senators, along with state lawmakers both individually and in combination.

Even the city of Valdez, a rival for the terminal site, applauded the decision, saying that the pipeline itself is good for the state, and that the common good trumps one town's self-interest, although Valdez hopes to stay in the hunt.

Unanimity like that is rare in Alaska, but no surprise. Who wouldn't want to tap our natural gas wealth for both Alaska's use and export?

Optimists say this takes us closer to the pipeline as reality. They may be right, but this 40-year Alaskan can remember when the Murkowski administration told us we were about three weeks away from a pipeline deal. And we've had other promises and deadlines blown and reset. The Stranded Gas Act, AGIA, Denali, or any number of other partnerships and deals that went from in the offing to off.

There were gas line conversations going on long before the trans-Alaska oil pipeline was finished, back when many homes still had rotary phones and kitchen trash compactors were high-tech.

That price tag -- what's the range now, $45 billion to $65 billion? -- is one reason skepticism rules. Even with absolutely no comprehension of such amounts, I can't imagine bankrolling that project without a pretty safe bet.

Another reason is that we've seen so many milestones now on the road to the next milestone that you begin to wonder if the road does go on forever.

Well, good for Nikiski. But I wouldn't make book on the line yet.

-- Frank Gerjevic