Despite reports that Cook Inlet may be awash in natural gas, leading to a surge of interest by smaller oil-and-gas companies, utilities are now looking elsewhere to ensure supply meets Southcentral Alaska's growing demand in the face of aging fields whose output has dwindled precipitously. As a result, the state with the biggest supply of natural gas of any in the union will, within two years, find itself importing the very quantity of gas it has for decades intended to ship overseas or to the Lower 48 to secure its economic future.

How much importing natural gas will cost Alaskans living in the state's largest city, or the Kenai Peninsula or the Mat-Su Valley is unclear. Certainly, it will be more expensive. But there's no other way to ensure Alaskans don't freeze during winters that routinely see the temperature dip to minus-20 or colder.

Speaking at a recent Regulatory Commission of Alaska hearing, Lee Thibert, vice president of strategic planning at Chugach Electric, said utilities are already seeking proposals for importing liquefied natural gas or compressed natural gas.

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