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Joe Balash: Bill Walker tripped walking down memory lane

  • Author: Joe Balash
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published October 23, 2014

Bill Walker left a few things out of the story during his stroll down memory lane.

In a recent opinion piece in these pages, he contrasted his own approach to LNG development with Governor Parnell's. Despite conceding his long history of failure in attempting to commercialize North Slope gas, Walker claims he'd do better than Parnell by bringing transparency and collaboration to the table -- this from the man whose Alaska Gasline Port Authority keeps its agreements secret and whose approach to business centers more around the courtroom than the bargaining table.

As someone who has had a front-row seat on gas line matters for a decade, I'd like to complete the picture for the public.

Bill Walker's AGPA was formed in 1999 by voters in the North Slope Borough, Fairbanks North Star Borough, and city of Valdez to promote an LNG project. While AGPA has modified its project plan multiple times and paired up with partners of various stripes, one constant has remained: Bill Walker. His interest? Follow the money.

AGPA started off with a bang, attracting partners who were attracted to the opportunities an Alaska gas line project would create. They were willing to contribute their engineering, financing and marketing expertise. Walker talks as if these partners donated their time and work out of their faith in the project. To be sure, there was an IOU.

In contrast, Walker wasn't paid in IOUs, but in cash. How much? We don't know, because his cash payments were hidden in those IOUs.

After an initial flurry, AGPA stalled. By 2004, the North Slope Borough wanted out of AGPA. Of course, Walker fought them tooth and nail, fighting legislation necessary for the borough to end its relationship with AGPA. Walker's approach was conflict, not collaboration.

Later that year, with his failures stacking up, Walker blamed the North Slope producers for interfering with AGPA's efforts. He hired the same anti-trust lawyer that took on Microsoft. With much fanfare they filed a complaint in federal court. It did not take long for the judge to rule the claim was meritless, and dismissed the suit. Unfortunately, Walker's attack left the parties further from agreement.

After Sarah Palin's election Walker seized the opportunity to promote a project by supporting Palin's Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. He testified in favor of her AGIA legislation, vowing there would be an LNG project in the mix.

With the passage of AGIA, Walker was presented with a golden opportunity to finally move a project forward. It appeared that the project plan favored by Walker was going to be endowed with support from a governor who supported AGPA's efforts.

But with the people of the North Slope, Fairbanks, and Valdez depending on Walker and the Port Authority to deliver an application to partner with the State under AGIA, he fumbled the ball. Despite strong support from Palin, her own commissioners deemed Walker's AGPA proposal as incomplete and ineligible for the lucrative license. To get the full story on this embarrassing failure, AGPA would have to make public its partner agreements and settlements. Don't hold your breath.

The most recent example of Walker's failure on LNG projects arose last year. To keep AGPA relevant, Walker filed an application with the federal Department of Energy (DOE) to export LNG from Alaska. To support his application, he claimed to have parties interested in buying Alaska natural gas. One key "buyer" in the pitch was a Japanese consortium called REI. That group, however, was compelled to correct the record by writing directly to the DOE disavowing any connection to AGPA.

Shortly thereafter, much like his failure with AGIA, DOE dismissed Walker's export application -- no supply, no pipeline, no LNG facility site, no LNG facility.

After 15 years of spending other peoples' money, hype, and criticism of others, Walker has little to show for his efforts. He has, however, profited handsomely.

Again, AGPA doesn't make its agreements available to the public. But we do know that one AGPA member, the city of Valdez, has paid Walker's law firm roughly $14 million over just the past five years. To be sure, this was for normal city business; we can't know the details of Walker's compensation dating back to AGPA's formation in 1999 due to generalized reporting of their expenses.

Under Gov. Parnell, Alaska's dream of commercializing our world-class natural gas reserves is closer to reality than ever before. All three major producers and the state of Alaska are aligned and moving in the same direction. This was brought about through tough but fair negotiations and then acted upon by the Legislature this past session. After five committees, the combined vote was an astounding 52-8 between the House and Senate.

This progress is in stark contrast to Walker's approach of conflict, litigation, and blame. Alaskans truly have a clear choice in the upcoming election: demonstrated progress or demonstrated failure.

Joe Balash is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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