Murkowski calls meeting on gas line

Posted: Monday, February 04, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Players in the debate over where and when to build a natural gas line from Alaska's North Slope will gather Monday for a closed meeting called by Sen. Frank Murkowski in the nation's capital.

The session comes as the Senate prepares to resume debate on an energy policy bill. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has promised to bring up the legislation early in this session.

From Alaska, Natural Resources Commissioner Pat Pourchot and state Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, will attend. Anna Kerttula, from Gov. Tony Knowles' Washington office, also will participate.

Alaskans from Exxon Mobil, BP and Phillips Petroleum will attend. So will employees from a consortium of pipeline companies hoping to build a line from Prudhoe Bay south through Alaska and down the Alaska Highway to the Lower 48.

''The purpose of the meeting is to discuss federal legislation and potential state and commercial efforts to enhance the economics and accelerate the delivery of Alaska gas to Lower 48 markets and maximize the benefits to Alaskans,'' Murkowski said in a news release.

Last fall, Democrats put together an energy bill that doesn't include opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The bill does offer incentives for the gas line, though, and Daschle has touted that as an alternative to ANWR development.

The bill would offer a federal promise to pay off up to 80 percent of any gas line construction loan, up to $10 billion, if the project fails. The guarantee could reduce the cost of the line by reducing the interest rate on the money borrowed to build it. The line is expected to cost $15 billion to $20 billion.

The loan guarantees would only be available if applications were received within six months of the act becoming law.

The also proposes several of the actions suggested by Alaska's three major oil companies in draft legislation they gave to Murkowski last July.

The bill is intended to:

--Create an expedited approval process for the Alaska-to-Alberta section of the line, with no requirement that it follow a particular route.

--Require separate environmental impact statements for the Alaska-to-Alberta and Alberta-to-Lower 48 sections.

--Designate the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as the lead agency for the environmental impact statement. FERC would have 18 months to finish the statement and 60 days beyond that to issue a decision.

--Establish a federal coordinator to oversee all federal agencies.

--Require that court cases over the legislation and its implementation be filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. It also would set deadlines for filing such cases.

Murkowski and Knowles have criticized the Democrats' gas proposal because it doesn't mandate a line through central Alaska, leaving open the possibility of routing the pipeline across the Beaufort Sea to Canada and then up the MacKenzie River valley.

The House has already passed an energy bill. It has no special incentives for the gas line, but it does allow ANWR drilling.

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