FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Hank Hove heads out Friday for a two-week trip to gauge the Far East's interest in liquefied natural gas from Alaska's North Slope.
Hove is chairman of the Alaska Gasline Port Authority. He will be accompanied by Valdez Mayor Dave Cobb, representatives of contracting giant Bechtel and financial consultants.
The group will visit companies in Japan, Taiwan, Korea and China to explain the proposal to build a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez.
''We are laying the groundwork I hope will evolve into a business relationship,'' Hove told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Hove said he does not expect any contracts or letters of intent to be signed. Rather he sees the trip as a step to toward coaxing Far East clients toward those contracts.
''We are the only state in the country that is able to export LNG, so that is very attractive to other companies in the world,'' he said.
Hove, Cobb and North Slope Mayor Ben Nageak have been working to arrange construction and operation of a pipeline to bring the North Slope's vast natural gas reserves to market.
Hove said he would like to have some type of agreement or real interest from overseas companies by May but that the process could take until June or longer. The coming trip was originally planned for February but was moved to March because of scheduling conflicts.
Hove said also that he is encouraged by the presence of Phillips Petroleum Co., which is purchasing the Alaska assets of Atlantic Richfield Co. He said meetings with Phillips have not been scheduled but that he is optimistic the company will develop LNG in the North Slope area.
Kristi Desjarlais, a Phillips spokeswoman, said the company is still assess-ing the pieces of its $7 billion Alaska investment. She said Phillips expects to have the Arco purchase finalized with federal regulators in April. Once that happens, Phillips will address North Slope development.
''We are keenly aware of its importance to the state and looking at all op-tions,'' she said.
The North Slope oil fields hold more than 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The gas line project has been estimated to cost anywhere from $9 billion to $15 billion.
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