House Bill 4, the one that would facilitate the building of a small diameter natural gas pipeline running through the center of the state from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska, is increasingly looking likely to pass.
And that passage will likely take with it the decade’s long dream of a big export line, a line that’s been the center of so much talk, the line that was going to bring the next boom to Alaska, the mythical line that made and broke careers, the line that was going to save the state when the oil ran out.
Although most know that the small line puts the final nail on the big line’s coffin, Bill Walker, spokesperson for the Port Authority, the group that’s been pushing the big line, has been the only one in Juneau to put it so starkly. Testifying against the bill in House Finance on Thursday, Walker said that the small line would kill the big line for the foreseeable future. “There will not be two mega gas projects in Alaska,” he said
(The big line was probably dead for the foreseeable future anyway.)
Roughly 700 miles long and costing about $8 billion, the small, or bullet line, is indeed a mega project.
But because it’s not as mega as the big line—the price of which is as much as $65 billion–and because the legislature, instead of ConocoPhillips, BP and Exxon, have the power over the line, and because Alaska needs the gas, it’s the only one that’s likely to be built.
The agency in charge of facilitating the project, the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, is asking the state for more than $320 million to complete planning and to take the project to “open season.” That’s in addition to the $70 million it’s already received.
But because the state which has the largest energy fields in North America has for so long hinged all its hopes on the big line, which would not only provide exports but provide Alaska gas too, it’s at the point that there’s little choice. Fairbanks residents are cutting wood to stay warm. Residents in Southcentral are facing blackouts. The rest of the state is going broke paying to heat their homes.
A committee substitute of the bill is now in House Finance, and although there was a brief dustup over it on Friday, it will probably head to Rules on Monday. From there, it’ll go to the Senate and from there, and if egos can remain in check and the House plays nice with the Fairbanks natural gas trucking bill, it’ll land on Gov. Sean Parnell’s desk.
With some changes being proposed, Parnell has signaled that he’ll probably sign the bill. But he hasn’t been touting it, standing by instead while others fight the battle. Nor has he had the political courage to honestly tell Alaskans what others already know: that a large diameter pipeline isn’t going to happen anytime in his lifetime, and that the bullet line is the only dream we have left.
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