JUNEAU (AP) -- The state House passed a bill Thursday banning construction of a possible northern route for an Alaska gas pipeline.
The bill bars the state from granting leases across state land in or adjacent to the Beaufort Sea for a pipeline to Canada's Mackenzie River valley.
Alaska's major oil companies have been studying both the northern route and a southern route along the Alaska Highway for a proposed pipeline to bring North Slope natural gas to market.
Backers of the bill say the southern -- or highway -- route would provide greater benefit to Alaskans, including construction and operations jobs; increased property value to state and local governments where the line would be located; and a ready source of natural gas for Alaskans. They note that the state constitution requires Alaska's resources to be developed for the maximum benefit of all Alaskans.
''This is an insurance policy. This ensures that the people of this state will reap the benefits of the gas line,'' said Rep. Jim Whitaker, R-Fairbanks.
The measure passed by a vote of 35 to 2, with only Reps. Andrew Halcro, R-Anchorage and Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, voting against it. Halcro said he supports a southern route for the gasline but said he doesn't think government should step into the process.
''How are we fulfilling our constitutional requirement if we are not allowing a full analysis of all the options?'' Halcro asked.
Kohring said the oil companies should be allowed to determine the route that's most economically feasible without government involvement.
''It worked well in the past,'' said Kohring. ''They chose the route of the trans-Alaska pipeline.''
Oil companies representatives have said they are required by government permitting processes to review all options, including various routes. But Rep. John Davies, D-Fairbanks, said the Legislature's action would not limit the industry's study.
The bill does not preclude the oil industry from eventually building a second gas line along the proposed northern route once the southern route is up and running.
''Once you have begun on a southern route, then you can look at the northern route,'' said Pete Kott, R-Eagle River.
BP, Phillips Petroleum and Exxon have formed the North American Natural Gas Pipeline Group and have launched a $75 million study to determine if a gasline is feasible, what the capacity of the line should be and which route would be best.
A decision on a route is expected later this year.
The Senate has already approved the bill and Gov. Tony Knowles will sign it, said spokesman Bob King.
King said the governor would also like to see the Legislature take positive steps to promote an Alaska Highway route, including funding the remainder of his supplemental request for work on permitting and right-of-way work for the line. Knowles requested $2 million for that work, but legislators only approved $600,000.
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