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Action needed on in-state gas project, Parnell tells Senate

Becky Bohrer

JUNEAU -- Gov. Sean Parnell is urging the Senate to pass some version of an in-state natural gas pipeline bill this year, saying legislative inaction would set back efforts to bring the project to fruition.

HB9, a priority of House Speaker Mike Chenault, passed the House last month but, as of Thursday morning, remained in the first of three committees it was assigned to on the Senate side.

Supporters say the bill is meant to further empower the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., or AGDC, in its effort to advance a small-diameter pipeline that would run from the North Slope to south-central Alaska and provide gas for Alaskans. Critics, including House Democrats, say it gives AGDC too much authority. They also say there are other alternatives for providing gas to Alaskans that could be cheaper.

Questions have been raised, too, whether the proposed route would be the best way to go. The Senate Resources Committee has advanced SB215, which would have AGDC build a line with gas running in the opposite direction, from Cook Inlet, in south-central Alaska, to Fairbanks and communities in-between that don't have access to a gas pipeline.

At the minimum, Parnell said, the Legislature should provide AGDC with adequate funding to continue its work and pass a bill that would allow AGDC to enter into confidentiality agreements to share information. But he said there are other parts of the bill where he thinks there's room for agreement -- and that the bill should be larger than just the bare minimum he considers necessary.

He would like to see $71 million in funding for AGDC, $50 million of that coming from the $200 million that lawmakers last year set aside for in-state gas work.

Parnell, in his State of the State address, set a series of benchmarks for progress on a gas pipeline.

The first two have been met: settlement of disputed leases seen as critical to the fortune of a major gas line and the coalescing of the North Slope's major players behind efforts to pursue a liquefied natural gas project capable of overseas exports.

The third calls for the groups behind the major pipeline and in-state line efforts by the end of September to complete talks determining what potential exists to consolidate the projects. Parnell, in an interview this week, said "no company" would share proprietary information without the promise of confidentiality.

Without it, he said, it "would be impossible" for the benchmark to be met and efforts to advance a project would be set back "by at least another year."

HB9 is one of the last unresolved issues that Parnell would like to see resolved by Sunday, the Legislature's last scheduled day.


By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press