Tokyo gas chief says Japan looks to Alaska to fill its energy needs

Posted: Thursday, February 15, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Japanese gas company official says Alaska's untapped gas reserves could be a key source of supply to the Asian market in ten years.

''For those thinking of an Alaska Highway pipeline, I will give you another option,'' Shigeru Muraki, a manager at Tokyo Gas told a gathering of oil, construction and mining industry officials in Anchorage Wednesday.

East Asian natural gas demand is growing at 5.4 percent per year, more than twice the rate of global consumption. Japanese demand is growing at 6 percent per year. Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan and India will all be scrambling for massive imports in the next 10 years, he predicted. Alaska could be a key source of supply.

Gov. Tony Knowles, BP, Exxon Mobil and Phillips Petroleum favor an overland pipeline through Canada to the Lower 48. Knowles is a step ahead of the companies, pushing a specific route along the Alaska Highway.

Their thinking is based in part on the belief that Asian market demand is not adequate to swallow Alaska's huge gas supplies. Yet Muraki's statements appeared to challenge that assumption.

Muraki said that burgeoning demand may mean that East Asia must augment annual supply by 35 million to 65 million metric tons by 2010. A natural gas project being pushed by Anchorage-based Yukon Pacific Corp. would supply 13.8 million metric tons per year.

Japan imports vast amounts of oil, natural gas and coal. Already, Japan gets natural gas from six different nations. But in the quest for diversity and security of supply, Muraki said he is interested in other sources, including Alaska and Russia's Sakhalin Island.

''Alaska and Sakhalin could potentially be very important,'' he said.

Betting that such northern reserves will be a part of Tokyo Gas' supply in the future, the company is building its new natural gas tankers with hulls fortified to withstand ice, he said.

Knowles' Commissioner of Revenue Wilson Condon said Monday that state analysis of Asian market growth by energy consultant Pedro Van Meurs and Japanese government officials shows far less demand growth.

A Lower 48 pipeline might even help the Asian project, he said, by bringing gas to Interior Alaska. From there, a spur could be built to an export site on the state's southern coast, Condon said.

''None of the assessments we have seen have been this bullish about Asia,'' Condon said. ''But I think it's unfair to say a premise of the Knowles administration has been undercut. If there is an opportunity to sell gas to Japan, we haven't foreclosed it.''

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