Here's a plan that will create long-lasting jobs for Alaskans

Posted: Monday, June 14, 2004

My guess is the governor and his political pals are secretly hoping the marijuana initiative will pass. Only a stoned population could believe that the plan they are floating for resource development could possibly benefit the average Alaskan and bring more jobs to our state.

Their plan is to give away our natural gas to their rich buddies in Houston, Edmonton, London or Denver and to export the jobs connected to that resource to Canada or the Midwest. By refusing to act on the issue, the Legislature has abdicated their duty to look after the best economic interests of Alaskans, which makes it even more important for people to elect legislators who will protect us in November.

An Associated Press article published earlier this year pointed out that the project the governor is proposing would not produce many jobs. About 5,000 to 8,000 people would construct the line to the Midwest, with a large majority of the jobs going to Canada. Those are the short-term jobs, the ones that don't really count in building a stable economy. Those are the boom and bust jobs that have plagued Alaska back to Russian colonization.

In the long run, the number of people who would be employed would be 400. This is hardly the solution we need for a state with our unemployment record.

When we consider the large power failures in the Midwest over the last few years, it makes sense to send our gas there. Oops, there were no power failures in Denver! The power problems were on the West Coast part of the Pacific Rim. Right where we are! The real market is where the people are, and the last time I checked there are a lot more people in California, Oregon and Washington than in Montana, North and South Dakota and Wyoming.

One of the main arguments against the West Coast market is the perceived danger in shipping liquefied natural gas. While that issue is debatable, the real goal should be to get a marketable product to people who need it at a price they are willing to pay. Here is where an all-Alaska natural gas industry makes sense. The technology now exists to make diesel fuel out of natural gas. Diesel is an immediately valuable product. It can be used for transportation, home heating and electrical generation. It is stable, safe and easy to transport. With the recent spike in fuel prices, the need is certainly there.

So here's the plan: Build the gas pipeline to Fairbanks or the Kenai Peninsula. On the Kenai, the process of conversion is already up and running, and gas is also being used to make fertilizer. We could build a processing plant in Fairbanks to convert the gas to diesel and then transport it over the Alaska Railroad to deepwater ports in Anchorage and Seward. This will create jobs for Alaskans real jobs that will last long after the basic pipeline construction is done.

Where would the jobs be? Well, the 400 gas patch jobs that would be created to access the resource will be there. The jobs needed to maintain the line would remain. The plant construction-operation jobs in Fairbanks, near a superb engineering university able to train Alaskans to do those jobs, would be there. All of the jobs necessary to support that level of production also would be available.

Transportation jobs on the railroad, shipping and harbor jobs in Anchorage and Seward would round out the benefits. The profits from our resource would stay home and build our permanent fund. We would be shipping out finished products, not a raw material, and the benefits would be shared by all Alaskans.

The energy cartels are rich enough, especially with the manufactured shortages that have driven fuel prices through the roof without an increase in the amount of money paid the state because of the Economic Limit Factor.

It's time to spread the wealth. Let's develop the line using Alaska resources. We can use part of the permanent fund. Alaskans voted overwhelmingly to do just that. Then, any profits from the line would go directly to the fund and allow it to grow instead of exporting the profits of our petroleum industry the way we do now.

Keeping jobs, processing and funding should make sense even to someone stoned on some other green resource.

John Cote, Seward

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