OPINION: Don’t be fooled — Alaska needs to develop its natural gas

stock - natural gas burner

The recent ADN opinion piece by Andrea Feniger of the Sierra Club and Arleigh Hitchcock of the Fairbanks Climate Action group against the Alaska LNG project, as well as the recent associated lawsuit against the project by the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, show a deep ignorance or intentional denial of energy reality.

Particularly without basis are the arguments that stopping the project will reduce carbon emissions worldwide. Stopping the project wouldn’t mean even one fewer drop of oil or one fewer molecule of natural gas being burned. It would just be produced somewhere else.

In fact, the world is awash in oil and gas, with the International Energy Agency estimating that known reserves represent another 49 years of gas and 57 years of oil remaining. And that is just known reserves. For at least the next two generations, reducing carbon will be a consumption issue, not a production issue.

And, in fact, the export of Alaska’s LNG to Asia would represent a substantial reduction in carbon emissions. Japan is still heavily reliant on coal and oil for its energy, especially after the reduction in nuclear energy following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Natural gas produces 50% less carbon than coal and 25% less carbon than oil.

For the authors’ and the environmental lawsuit mill’s argument to prevail, Japan would have to make a massive energy conversion. Japan is one of the most aggressive nations supporting renewable energy, but they have few alternatives, especially after Fukushima. If non-carbon fuels were actually cheaper, you can guarantee they would be using them. There is no realistic strategy for them to make a transition without fossil fuels. Given the authors’ comments on global energy policy, you would think they would know that.

And now, with the sanctions against Russian gas by Europe, it is being diverted to Asia, along with crude and refined oil through the Bering Strait in substantially higher amounts, representing a real threat to our coastlines. So much gas is available that the latest price paid by Japan for LNG was $9.42 per million BTU, which is about $2 less per million BTUs than a long-term contract that would be necessary to finance the Alaska LNG project. But as we have seen in the energy world, things can change, sometimes in wildly unpredictable ways. For that reason alone, we should keep the Alaska LNG project on the table, especially since we have the permits and export authorizations.

I was particularly surprised at the position of the author from Fairbanks, that the project had no benefit for Alaska communities. Fairbanks is the poster child for high energy prices, being almost entirely dependent on diesel fuel and with few alternative wind, solar or hydro options. Access to Alaska LNG would change that equation both from an emissions and consumer price basis. Without LNG, would she then support a large nuclear project in Fairbanks? I doubt it.


The main point is that carbon emissions are a consumption issue, not a production issue. Of course, we should support all practical alternatives and efficiencies. In Alaska, we can also contribute to that effort beyond LNG, including the production of hydrogen from stranded energy sources in Alaska. I, myself am involved in a project in the Aleutian Islands to produce hydrogen and hydrogen-based non-carbon fuels using geothermal, tidal and wind energy.

But even with those options, Alaska and the Asian markets will still need hydrocarbons as we make a practical transition. The Alaska LNG project is clearly in the national and state interests in balance of trade, jobs, government revenues and consumer interests. The ill-conceived efforts to overturn the export license should be summarily dismissed by the agencies and the courts.

Paul Fuhs is a former mayor of Unalaska, former Alaska Commissioner of Commerce and Economic Development and is currently CEO of Alaska Hydrogen Industries LLC.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Paul Fuhs

Paul Fuhs is a longtime resources and energy development consultant and former mayor of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor.