Gov. Bill Walker and four other state officials in Tokyo on a gas marketing trip Monday said they felt the big earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan. One state official said the shaking seemed to last five minutes, but everyone was fine afterward.
"It woke everybody up and went on for what seemed like a very long, long time," said Andy Mack, Natural Resources commissioner, reached by cellphone in Tokyo about three hours after the quake.
"We're at a hotel here," Mack said. "I'm on the 11th floor and the building was swinging back and forth pretty well. It was spooky."
He said he could not disclose his specific location for security reasons associated with the governor's safety.
Tokyo is about 200 miles south of the earthquake that struck off the coast near the Fukushima Prefecture, in the same region where a tsunami from a magnitude-9.0 quake in 2011 killed more than 15,000 people and led to the meltdown at the Fukushima power plant.
The Monday morning quake — occurring early Tuesday in Japan, which sits on the other side of the International Date Line — was measured as a magnitude-7.3 quake by the Japan Meteorological Agency. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was magnitude-6.9 on the Richter scale. The earthquake led to evacuations in parts of the country and media reported new damage to a nuclear reactor cooling system.
The quake in 2011 and damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant helped stoke interest in Alaska's natural gas, providing a compelling argument supporting a liquefied natural gas project in the state after Japan said it would reduce its reliance on nuclear power.
The roots of the $55 billion Alaska LNG project were planted later in 2011, after former Gov. Sean Parnell, citing the nuclear disaster, said the state would shift its focus from moving North Slope natural gas in a pipeline through Canada and instead would look to sell it overseas to Pacific Rim markets.
But with liquefied natural gas prices now low and global supply high, the Alaska LNG project has hit big bumps in recent months. The state is working to officially take over the lead role early next year after partners Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips and BP have stepped back amid concerns over cost.
The state is also working to market the project to utilities, energy companies and foreign officials, leading to the trip to Tokyo and other recent trips to South Korea and Singapore. On Thanksgiving Day, Walker is scheduled to speak in Tokyo at the fifth annual LNG Producer-Consumer Conference, another event attracting the LNG market.
Grace Jang, the governor's communications director, said it's one of the world's largest annual LNG conferences.
"Last year, more than a thousand people from all over the world attended. They are speaking to, and engaging with, the market about Alaska's tremendous resource opportunities," she said.
The group left Alaska on Saturday. They'll return this weekend, said Jang.
In addition to the governor and Mack, the team consists of John Hendrix, the governor's chief oil and gas adviser; Keith Meyer, president of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.; and Shelley James, associate director of International Trade.
Mack said the earthquake Monday has revived raw emotions in Japan about the 2011 disaster. While unfortunate, it illustrates the risk such events pose to nuclear operations at Fukushima and elsewhere, he said.
Mack said the state was planning to meet with officials from energy companies in Tokyo later in the day. The risk to nuclear power from earthquakes could provide a talking point as the state's team discusses using North Slope LNG as a way to diversify the energy supply in Japan.
"We'd hope there'd be no earthquakes but they do pose some risk," Mack said. "I imagine this will be on people's minds today."