Federal bill would block northern natural gas pipeline route

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A U.S. House committee has approved language that would block federal permits for any natural gas pipeline that runs from Prudhoe Bay directly east into Canada.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, asked for the provision. Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., added it to an energy bill Wednesday night during a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Tauzin is the committee chairman.

Committee members approved the amendment on a voice vote.

The underlying bill, part of a package Republicans introduced to implement President Bush's energy policies, was approved 50-5 Thursday by the full committee. It likely will be merged with other energy bills before hitting the House floor.

Piping gas east from Prudhoe Bay across the Beaufort Sea and then down the MacKenzie River valley in Canada would be cheaper than bringing it south to Fairbanks and then down the Alaska Highway, a BP Alaska executive said Wednesday.

But Young said the oil companies have to consider the politics.

''It doesn't matter if there's a cheaper route if you can't get it built,'' he said. ''A north-south route through the state is the most realistic way to build a gas pipeline, and it's the most realistic way to ensure that Alaska gains the most benefit from its own gas.''

Both Gov. Tony Knowles and the Alaska Legislature oppose the northern route, saying it offers too few benefits to Alaska.

Alaska's congressional delegation also has raised concerns about whether a pipeline would be permitted to cross the Beaufort Sea, with its scouring ice floes. The area that must be traversed lies just north of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

All this means that the highway route is the only realistic route, Young told the Washington, D.C. reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A right of way for the Alaska Highway route, secured by pipeline companies in the early 1980s, is still valid.

Young's amendment states that the federal government cannot grant a ''license, permit, lease, right of way, authorization or other approval'' for any natural gas line from Prudhoe Bay built in the Beaufort Sea or on its shoreline.

Also, no such line would be allowed to enter Canada north of 68 degrees latitude -- the upper Coleen River area directly east of Arctic Village.

The Legislature passed a bill with similar intent this year, and Knowles signed it, though reluctantly, according to spokesman Bob King.

''The reservations were due to the concerns about the signal this would send to both the private sector and the Canadians, both of whom we'll have to work with very closely to get any gas line,'' King said.

Knowles did not ask Young for the federal legislative language, King said. Knowles unequivocally supports the highway route, King said, but wants to sell the idea rather than mandate it.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said he wouldn't oppose Young's language if it makes it to the Senate. And he said that the ''bottom-line'' route is not politically acceptable.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, said he also opposes the northern route.

''It represents the consensus of Alaskans' thinking, including Alaska state law,'' he said through his spokesman, Chuck Kleeschulte. Murkowski has not committed to Young's language since the bill has not arrived in the Senate, Kleeschulte said.

A state economist said Wednesday the Beaufort Sea route could save $2 billion on the $15 billion to $20 billion project.

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