Reason to be optimistic

News that state officials have asked ConocoPhillips to take its North Kenai liquefied natural gas plant out of mothballs gives us more reason for optimism that the Cook Inlet oil and gas renaissance will be a lasting trend on the Kenai Peninsula.

Certainly, our optimism is somewhat guarded. Alaska’s long term energy puzzle still has a lot of moving pieces, from exploration to infrastructure to politics. The state’s request that ConocoPhillips apply for an export permit is a long way removed from shipments of LNG being delivered to foreign ports.

Nevertheless, the state’s announcement comes on the heels of successful efforts from several independent explorers, and assurances that local needs for natural gas can be met through 2018.

With local needs met, there is a need to find markets for Cook Inlet gas outside of Southcentral Alaska — a factor that has limited industry investment in new gas exploration in the region in recent years. With the LNG plant online, the market for Cook Inlet gas would greatly expand.

Coupled with the potential for Agrium to resume operations — company officials took stock of what it would take restart its North Kenai plant earlier this year — that could mean several hundred good jobs returning to the area in the near future.

Of course, that’s an optimistic outlook. ConocoPhillips will need to determine if the economics of restarting LNG shipments make it a viable option.

But the fact that it has become an option just a year after the decision was made to mothball the plant is good reason to be optimistic.

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