Although Gov. Sean Parnell is down 3,000 votes, it’s possible, but unlikely that the 41,000 or so votes left to be counted will swing any other than they did on election night. We’ll know soon enough, but Republican turned Independent Bill Walker is likely to be the state’s next governor and his running mate, Democrat Byron Mallott is likely to be the lieutenant governor.
It’s an odd pairing, only made possible because of the National Guard scandal and the fact that Gov. Sean Parnell seemed to be caught flat-footed after the so-called “Unity Ticket” was announced on Labor Day. Prior, Parnell only had a shell of a campaign structure, which seemed to turn into a real organization only about two weeks before the election. By that time, most of the air-time was already bought and the National Guard issue dominated the media’s attention.
What wasn’t focused on much was the hallmark of Bill Walker’s candidacy: the fate of both of the natural gas pipelines, the smaller ‘bullet line” and the large diameter pipeline. At forums, debates and interviews, Walker has indicated that if he won, major changes would be afoot for both of those projects, as well as for the state agency—the Alaska Gasline Development Corp—which is charged with managing Alaska’s interest in them.
The problem? If Walker wants to change the contracts, and to tinker with AGDC, he’ll likely need, if not legislative approval, at least strong legislative buy-in. That, at least on the face of it, is unlikely to happen anytime soon. At a press conference on Friday announcing the House organization for the next two years, House Speaker Mike Chenault, as well as others in House leadership, indicated that from what he’s heard of Walker’s plans, he’s none too excited with them.
“It will take a change in statue to dismantle AGDC,” Chenault said, an agency which he supports. As to the large diameter gasline, he said that the state is “farther ahead than we’ve ever have been.”
House Majority Leader Charisse Millett also chimed in. No matter who the governor is, “no one is going to slow down the process on the pipeline,” she said.
Because it can be confusing, here’s a primer of the two lines:
If built, the large natural gas pipeline, called AKLNG, would carry gas from the North Slope to Nikiski, (with takeoff points to provide gas for Alaska). The gas would be put on tankers and shipped to Asian markets as LNG. That project, along with the liquefaction plant, a massive gas treatment plant, and LNG storage tanks and a tanker terminal. is expected to cost up to $65 billion, and will be one of the largest private construction projects in the country.
Then there’s the small diameter gas pipeline, commonly called “The Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline,” or, ASAP, or the “bullet line.” This line would still bring gas from the North Slope to tidewater, and to Alaskans along the way, but would bring less of it and would be far less expensive to build. Along with a gas treatment plant, and a 35-mile spur line between the main pipeline and Fairbanks, the cost of this project is estimated to be about $7.7 billion. The project was conceived as kind of a back up to bring gas to Alaskans in case a large line didn’t get built. However, AGDC said that the work that the agency has done on one project benefits the other.
Bill Walker has been a vocal critic of both projects. He has said unequivocally that the bullet line is a bad deal for Alaska. He has also said that he wants to renegotiate the terms under which the state is moving forward on the AKLNG project, terms which he called “fatally flawed.” In interviews, he has repeatedly said that he wants the state to take a majority interest in the project. As of now, the state, along with TransCanada would own up to 25 percent in the project.
It’s unclear, exactly, how Walker will do any of this if elected.
What’s clear is that the House Majority, as of now, doesn’t seem interested in letting him do it. “No one wants to be adversarial to start with,” Chenault said. If he wins, he and other members will sit down and talk to him. Until then, “we’ll all keep our powder dry,” he said.
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