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Alaska Supreme Court showdown over Point Thomson nears

Alaska Dispatch

A high-profile Alaska Supreme Court trial scheduled next month in Anchorage may play a key role in any progress the Parnell administration hopes to make on marketing the state's stranded natural gas reserves.

The state and Exxon Mobil Corp. are set for a high court showdown Feb. 8 at Anchorage's West High School over the fate of lucrative leases for the Point Thomson oil-and-gas fields. The state has been attempting to reclaim the leases for years, through three administrations now, claiming that Exxon Mobil and other leaseholders (BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips) have not met their obligations to develop the field.

Arguments are set to begin at 10:30 a.m., according to the Petroleum News (as reported by the Anchorage Daily News), and each side has 30 minutes to present its case.

A recently-completed environmental report on Point Thomson estimates it contains as much as 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, plus hundreds of millions of barrels of petroleum liquids. And that gas is considered crucial to any future gasline from the North Slope.

During last week's State of the State speech, Gov. Sean Parnell said that a "resolution in principle" had been reached with Exxon Mobil. Such a resolution, if accepted by the court, may bring the nearly decade-long legal drama to a swift close. However, Parnell said the other producers have not signed on to the settlement.

The stakes for all sides are, indeed, quite high. Alaska's North Slope holds the largest conventional natural gas reserves in North America. Without resolution on Point Thomson, the state's gasline dreams will likely remain a fantasy.