Knowles signs ban on ''over-the-top'' pipeline route

Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles signed a bill this week that bans construction of a gas pipeline along a northern route to Canada, but he wasn't entirely happy with the measure.

Alaska's major oil companies are studying the feasibility of a proposed pipeline to bring North Slope gas to market, and have looked at both a northern route from Prudhoe Bay to the Canadian Arctic and a southern route along the Alaska Highway.

The new law prohibits that northern route by barring the state from granting leases across state land in or adjacent to the Beaufort Sea for a pipeline to Canada's Mackenzie River valley.

The Legislature overwhelming approved the bill -- just two legislators out of 60 opposed it.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, said the southern route, with many more miles of pipeline in Alaska, would benefit Alaskans most. It would provide more 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.

Knowles, who quietly signed the bill Wednesday, said he agrees the southern route is best for Alaska and has advocated for it. However, in a letter to House Speaker Brian Porter, R-Anchorage, he expressed reservations about Senate Bill 164.

''The form and approach of this legislation is troubling,'' Knowles said.

A resolution, a nonbinding statement of the Legislature's position on an issue, would have been more suitable, Knowles said. Changing statutes to prohibit a specific right of way from being issued infringes on normal executive branch functions, he said.

He expressed concern the legislation might complicate relations with Canada, which must agree to either route since both would pass through that country.

''In signing this legislation, we must be careful that it not end up serving the opposite of its intent, making it harder to achieve our goal of immediate gasline construction along the Alaska Highway,'' Knowles said.

Leaders of Canada's Northwest Territories favor the northern route, which would provide jobs and allow gas reserves there to be developed, while leaders in Canada's Yukon favor the southern route, which would pass through that territory.

Curtis Thayer, a spokesman for the North American Natural Gas Pipeline Group, said the group is continuing to study the northern route because both U.S. and Canada law require more than one route to be studied.

BP, Phillips Petroleum and Exxon make up the pipeline group, which is spending $75 million to determine if a gas line is feasible. A decision is expected by the end of the year.

If the northern route proves to be the most economical, the producers would negotiate the conflict with the state, Thayer said.

Thayer said Alaskans would benefit from either route, and a northern route does not prohibit a spur line from being built to Fairbanks to supply gas to Alaska.

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