The new president of the state's gas line corporation said Thursday he plans to open a marketing office in Houston with a "real Alaska feel" and would like to hire his oldest daughter as one of his employees to work there.
Keith Meyer, 58, said his daughter, whom he would not name, does administrative work at the company he founded and still owns, LNG America, based in Houston.
She is not paid a lot, is "a very good hand, and would be an excellent addition" to Alaska Gasline Development Corp., he said.
But Dave Cruz, chair of the AGDC board, said there won't be family hiring within the state agency. He said Meyer comes from the private sector where owners sometimes employ family, and said Meyer didn't understand the hiring rules at the corporation.
Cruz said the board, which hired Meyer in June, will otherwise be closely involved in the hiring process associated with the Houston office.
"We'll make sure we're not exposing the state or corporation to any violation of nepotism regulations," said Cruz. "We'll make sure it's done right, and we'll know who is hired."
Meyer began working at Alaska LNG in June and is paid a base annual salary of $550,000. He said he is going to transition out of his ownership of LNG America, a company involved in the distribution of liquefied natural gas.
AGDC represents Alaska in the $55 billion Alaska LNG project that also includes ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips. The project, if it happens, calls for building the pipeline and other facilities to sell North Slope natural gas to Asian utilities.
The project is still in the design phase and the oil companies have expressed uncertainty about continuing with the costly project next year, with oil prices and LNG prices low, officials have said. Project documents show first production would not occur until late 2025.
Meyer has said he hopes to accelerate that schedule and get North Slope gas produced for export by 2023.
The AGDC board at its meeting on Thursday approved the idea of opening the Houston office, Cruz said.
Meyer presented the idea of hiring the LNG America staff, which includes his daughter, at the meeting.
Meyer, who is renting a place in Anchorage with family and recently moved from the Houston area, said he plans to continue working at AGDC's headquarters in Anchorage. He said he will employ perhaps three to five people in the Houston office.
North American headquarters for Asian utilities that might buy Alaska's North Slope gas, as well as global LNG trading companies, are located in Houston, he said.
Having an office there could allow regular monthly meetings between executives with those entities and AGDC staff in Houston and in Anchorage, by videoconference. Goals would include lining up customers and financing, he said.
He also noted that the Alaska LNG project headquarters are located in Houston — Texas-based ExxonMobil is the project lead — but AGDC is not.
"America's energy center is Houston, and it's one of the few place in the world where you can get that quantity of energy companies in one tight geography," Meyer said.
"Not a lot of bodies" would work at the office, Meyer said.
Meyer envisions an office interior in Houston that would feel Alaskan, with perhaps a bear skin rug, an Alaska flag in the entryway and other Alaska stuff, he said.
The agency has legislative approval for 26 positions and a $10.4 million budget this fiscal year, but has not been fully staffed, officials said. The new office would require additional employees for marketing positions. AGDC has been funded for those positions, Cruz said.
Meyer said also that he would like to hire the low-priced but skilled senior geologist who worked for him at LNG America, and also does marketing work.
That would not violate hiring rules, Cruz said.
Cruz said he's pleased with Meyer. He said AGDC has a responsibility to market Alaska's share of the North Slope gas, and a small office in Houston will help the corporation do that.
Cruz said the office "won't be elaborate" and said he wants it opened in about 60 days or sooner.
"Our sales people will be based out there so they can meet the buyers on their own turf rather than getting someone to fly to Alaska," he said.
Meyer said he intends to report his plans for the Houston office at the next board meeting, which is tentatively set for Aug. 11.