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Energy

Another high-priced consultant removed from state gas line team

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published November 14, 2015

A second consultant on the state team pursuing a $55 billion natural gas line project has left his job, but in this case, it appears to be for good.

Audie Setters, a Texas consultant hired last fall under former Gov. Sean Parnell but retained by Gov. Bill Walker, said his contract ended on Monday and was not renewed, part of an amicable parting as the project heads toward a possible slowdown.

The Walker administration also said this week it is considering a new role for another key consultant, South Carolina attorney Rigdon Boykin, who had served as the project's lead negotiator.

The moves come after Walker recently won legislative approval for the buyout of TransCanada, providing a chance for the administration to reset its organizational structure.

A retired liquefied natural gas marketing manager for Chevron, Setters said he understood that Marty Rutherford, deputy commissioner of natural resources, wanted to rethink the agency's Alaska LNG marketing team after the special session ended last week. Rutherford could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The state team's organizational structure has come under fire from lawmakers wondering who is in charge, a question answered by Walker when he said the buck stops with him. Setters at one point temporarily served as lead negotiator, but returned to focus on marketing.

"It was very confusing," Setters acknowledged.

Setters recently received two one-month extensions to the yearlong contract under the Department of Natural Resources that began in September 2014. The contract paid Setters $615,000 over 14 months, or $44,000 a month on average, less than the $120,000 paid monthly to Boykin.

Setters, back with his wife in Dripping Springs, Texas, said administration officials also wanted him to move to Alaska, rather than spending three weeks a month in the state as he previously had.

"I couldn't give them what they were looking for," he said. "But I think the project might slow down a bit, and if it does, now would be a good time to make a change and find someone with the right skill set."

The slowdown, he said, will not impact the project's end date, still set for late 2024 or early the following year.

As the project's marketing official, Setters met with potential gas buyers during a trip to Japan with Walker and other state officials and during a recent conference in Singapore. He said Walker has a "great vision" for the project and that a lot of Asian companies are excited about his enthusiasm and commitment.

Asked for his parting wisdom, Setters said the drop in oil and gas prices may help the project by lowering the cost of materials for the capital-intensive project that includes an 800-mile pipeline.

"There's a real opportunity to take 10 to 20 percent out of the project cost," he said.

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