$25K conference sponsorship gets governor in front of LNG audience in Singapore

Gov. Bill Walker is scheduled to be a guest speaker at a liquefied natural gas conference in Singapore on Wednesday, pitching a project that seeks to provide vast amounts of North Slope gas for Asian markets.

But the appearance doesn't come cheap.

It's part of other marketing opportunities at the conference that were acquired after the state gas line corporation spent $25,000 for a silver sponsorship at the CWC World LNG and Gas Series: Eighth Asia Pacific Summit.

Josie Wilson, communications manager for the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., justified the sponsorship by saying it brings "significant exposure opportunities" for the corporation and Alaska, including the chance for Walker to be a keynote speaker on the conference's opening day of speakers.

But the expense comes with Alaska facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis and critics questioning the state's efforts to take over the $55 billion Alaska LNG project, while lead partner Exxon Mobil, BP and ConocoPhillips are backing away over doubts about its global competitiveness.

Walker said in a statement that assessing the market to determine if companies and utilities are interested in buying Alaska's gas is a critical step. He said potential buyers need to know about the prospects in Alaska.

"The market interest for LNG does not stop because of Alaska's fiscal situation," he said in a statement emailed by his office.

"Prior administrations have spent nearly $400 million on a gas line effort through Canada without any market analysis, only to learn there was no market," Walker said.

Walker's speaking engagement comes as Walker, six other state officials and first lady Donna Walker, covering her own expenses, will travel starting this weekend for a 10-day trip to Singapore and South Korea to market North Slope natural gas.

Walker's office has said the trip to South Korea came at the invitation of the country's foreign affairs ministry. The ministry will pay the travel and lodging expenses associated with the South Korean portion of the trip for the governor, the first lady and one state official, said Katie Marquette, the governor's press secretary. In South Korea, the Alaska delegation plans to meet with private companies that may want to buy Alaska's gas.

The Singapore conference Tuesday through Friday will draw potential gas buyers and investors, providing networking opportunities. Other "silver sponsors" at the conference — the level Alaska joined — include Exxon Mobil and BP.

Wilson said the gas line corporation negotiated the silver sponsorship down from a higher amount but she did not know by how much.

"AGDC expects to be highly visible throughout the conference and receive a positive return on investment for the sponsorship," Wilson said in an email.

AGDC signs will be "strategically placed" to draw the attention of conference-goers entering the ballroom, she said. The AGDC logo using the state flag's stars  — the Big Dipper below the North Star — will be seen on "napkins, menus and the aprons worn by the servers," and on large projection screens.

The agency "will also receive recognition in all conference materials, a display booth in the networking area, and three complimentary registrations," she said.

The agency has said it has a year's worth of money to work on a state-led project, about $30 million. Walker has said it will take a year for the state to determine if the Asian gas market is interested enough to support a project.

Alaska LNG has been called a combination of megaprojects that includes the construction of two big industrial plants and an 800-mile gas line to get liquefied natural gas from the North Slope to oceangoing tankers to Asia.

Walker hopes a state-led effort can secure federal tax exemptions and lower costs in other ways, making it more competitive. He's also hopeful that strong interest from buyers in Asia can lead to commitments for the gas, potentially attracting new investors.