FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Another political heavyweight has added his influence in trying to get a natural gas pipeline built in Alaska.
Sen. Frank Murkowski said the price of natural gas has climbed roughly 60 percent in the past year, making gas from the North Slope economically viable.
The Alaska Republican, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he's had a number of meetings with companies interested in developing natural gas.
Alaska's North Slope has 35 trillion cubic feet of known natural gas reserves. Finding a market for the gas has been a dream for more than 30 years, but projects have foundered on high cost and low gas prices.
Murkowski joins Sen. Ted Stevens, who last week opposed any route that bypasses Alaska and goes through Canada.
Any natural gas pipeline that's built should be routed through Alaska, Murkowski said.
''It makes sense. First of all, we've already got a corridor and now it's half owned by the state,'' he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''Second, we've got the permits already. Thirdly, we've got a market for gas in the U.S. That's probably the most important factor.''
The preliminary numbers may favor an offshore route, but any cost benefits would be eliminated by environmental concerns, Murkowski said.
Many new and revamped power plants that supply electricity to the Lower 48 are being changed to run on natural gas instead of coal or nuclear energy, he said. Federal and state rules are calling for cleaner emissions, something that gas may bring, Murkowski said.
''There is not an option to go back to heavy hydrocarbons,'' said Rep. Jim Whitaker, R-Fairbanks.
An Alaska-Canada or cross-Alaska route could meet those market demands. However, a Canadian company, Foothills Pipeline, already holds permits for the Alaska-Canada route. Canada has an extensive pipeline system that ties into the U.S.
Whitaker agrees that now is the time to bring Alaska gas to market, not only because of U.S. demands but because of the Asian market as well.
''The Asian market is growing,'' Whitaker said. ''There is a niche for it (Alaska gas) in the market.''
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