Alaska Highway route best way to get state's natural gas to market

-- The Ketchikan Daily News - June 5

Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Why not natural gas?

All the attention focused on oil reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is obscuring the fact that Alaska also has immense reserves of natural gas with no way to get it to market.

We've got the route -- heading south from the North Slope and traveling along the existing Alaska Highway through Alaska and Yukon and on to Alberta. The path has no major bureaucratic hurdles to clear because Congress permitted the route back in 1977, according to information from the office of Gov. Tony Knowles.

The economics are right. The price of natural gas is more than twice the average of the past 15 years. Demand in the energy-starved Lower 48 shows no sign of slowing, and the current prices can support the costs of building the pipeline. And building the line means jobs for Alaskans and revenue for Alaska.

It's politically popular. A pipeline for Alaska natural gas has the endorsement of all 50 governors in the United States and has wide support in Congress, according to Knowles.

With all this going for an Alaska natural gas pipeline, you'd think construction would be starting soon. Alas, it's not that simple.

Canada also has significant reserves of natural gas, and obviously has an interest in bringing that Mackenzie Delta gas to market. This has prompted another pipeline proposal that would send Alaska's natural gas east from the North Slope for about 300 miles under the Beaufort Sea to the Mackenzie Delta and then south through Canada. Consideration of this route has essentially stopped the Alaska Highway route in its tracks for the time being.

Gov. Knowles was in Canada last week pitching for cooperation in supporting the Alaska Highway pipeline -- of which 60 percent of its 1,800-mile route would be in Canada.

Knowles is rightly portraying the Alaska Highway route as the fastest way to get arctic gas to market. In a speech recently at the Canadian National Press Club in Ottawa, Knowles said the Canadians shouldn't view the situation as a competition between Alaska and Canadian natural gas, but rather a competition between northern natural gas and other energy forms such as coal and nuclear power. Bringing Alaska's natural gas to market as fast as possible could forestall dependence on those other, less environmentally friendly power sources and open the door for greater demand for natural gas.

We appreciate Knowles' efforts to encourage Canadian officials to back the Alaska Highway route, because it makes the most sense for Alaska in jobs and revenue, along with an energy supply for the rural towns along the route and the possibility of gas-powered industries in the future. The Canadians are looking for the same benefits for their citizens and communities. However, the northern route has the significant disadvantages of difficult engineering, a longer construction timetable. It's long underwater portion also poses more environmental questions than does the Alaska Highway pathway.

Bringing northern gas to market quickly is the first, best and most crucial step for Alaskans and Canadians. The Alaska Highway route is the right choice to accomplish that goal.

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