House committee approves regulatory exemption for gas pipeline

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A House bill that proposes to exempt natural gas facilities from oversight by the Joint Pipeline Office could make it tough to ensure safety standards are met, according to an environmental group.

Ross Cohen, director of the Alaska Environmental Forum, said House Bill 29 could also reduce protections against gas tanker spills.

The House Special Committee on Oil and Gas later rejected an amendment that would have restored the traditional role of the JPO, a state-federal agency that regulates the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and Valdez tanker terminal.

Committee chairman Jim Whitaker, R-Fairbanks, suggested that exempting gas-processing facilities and shipping terminals from JPO jurisdiction may lead to burdensome regulatory measures by a hodgepodge of state and federal agencies.

''It appears to me that we may be taking a step backward into anarchy,'' said Whitaker, noting that JPO was formed in large part to streamline the regulatory process.

Bill Britt, the state's top JPO representative, testified that the agency would retain its pipeline jurisdiction and that exempting gas liquefaction plants and terminals won't cut the volume of governmental red tape.

''Agencies within JPO have the same missions they would otherwise,'' he said. ''It's just an exercise in efficiency having everyone working together.''

Michael Hurley, representing the North Slope LNG Sponsor Group, said the exemption was favored by the Arco-led producers team studying the economic feasibility of a trans-Alaska gas pipeline.

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