Forget gas line, Alaska; either shoot for the moon, or get back to basics

 

The gas pipeline is dead. At least, that's the scenario we should consider.

Life in the North often brings unexpected conditions and we know how important it is to be prepared. Packing a pair of dry socks, a box of waterproof matches or that extra sandwich could provide a little relief or it could save a life. We prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and that's exactly how we should approach our state's fiscal crisis.

[Thar she flows! It's the Alaska gas line… Can you see it? Can you?]

Economic models relied upon by decision-makers present the gas pipeline almost as a given, the solid ground on the other side of fiscal uncertainty. But there are more and more reasons to re-evaluate that assumption.

This gas pipeline project has slammed into a hard brick wall of economic realities. Our gas is just too far away, thousands of miles from markets. The cost is high and the geographic barriers only multiply environmental and legal challenges. It's not an impossible project but it would take miraculous conditions to see it developed.

So, if a pipeline isn't the answer, what else can we do to transform our remote natural gas into jobs for our citizens and revenue for our state?

 

High voltage direct current

Another possibility is building an LNG power plant on the North Slope and running high voltage direct current (HVDC) to Fairbanks or Anchorage. HVDC lines are capable of transporting energy over great distances and can be built and maintained at a fractional cost compared to a $65 billion pipeline. Alaska could even lay groundwork to connect our lines to a global power grid, allowing us to export our energy to the world.

Where milliseconds matter

Or perhaps Alaska's new commodity could be photons. Right now, a company is laying fiber optic line between Tokyo and London and, as luck would have it, this cable will put Barrow at the crossroads of some of the world's largest financial hubs. Milliseconds matter in global finance and the new demand is for decision points between trading hubs.

Instead of hauling our LNG to market, we could create a new market around the LNG. The North Slope would be an ideal location for servers, naturally cooled and enjoying low cost power from LNG plants. There are even polar bears to guard the server farms, everything an evil computer genius could want.

Welcome to Wally World

In Alaska, we have an obligation to consider the zany, impossible and impractical. For example, slightly explosive drone blimps sailing hydrogen to overseas markets.

Seward's Success was a boondoggle bubble city of the future, once proposed for Point MacKenzie. This domed Shangri-La would have been an oasis in the North powered by LNG. We could certainly dust off those blueprints and send them up to Barrow, an opulent tourist attraction to meet the bloom of visitors to the top of the world.

Back to Earth

Or maybe we've had enough of giant-sized megaprojects and out-of-state consultants. Maybe it's time to fold up some of those jobs to nowhere and start using our resources for something more manageable, smaller projects aimed at reducing the cost of energy and raising the quality of life for Alaskans.

How many homes could already be enjoying wind energy or better state services for the hundreds of millions we've spent on pipeline planning?

We need to start thinking beyond this pipeline. We're Alaskans; we don't hike off into the woods expecting it to stay sunny. We pack for the weather.

Pat  Race  is an illustrator, filmmaker and small-business owner. You
can find his work at the Alaska Robotics Gallery in Juneau or online at
alaskarobotics.com