WASHINGTON (AP) Congress may encourage North Slope natural gas owners to offer Native corporations and other Alaskans an ownership share of a proposed pipeline to the Lower 48.
Language to do so was included in a draft of the national energy bill released earlier this week by a conference committee.
The proposal would not require gas owners to share ownership but rather expresses the ''sense of Congress'' that they should.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, requested the language, said Justin Stiefel, her chief of staff.
Stiefel said participation in the gas line by Native corporations could create owner interest in hiring Alaska Natives.
Opening the ownership to all Alaskans, perhaps through an organization, could spread benefits more widely than the traditional state-provided services and entitlements, he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
''Besides a dividend or some kind of state royalty, they might have the opportunity for some kind of income that is long-term and further recognizes that every Alaskan owns a piece of the gas,'' he said.
Don Duncan, vice president of government relations for ConocoPhillips in Washington, said he understood that the language was adopted as an alternative to a mandate.
''There has been an effort in the 11th hour by some of the Native corporations to ask for a mandated 10 percent ownership,'' Duncan said.
Duncan said his company would be happy to consider proposals from Alaska companies but would object to government orders to do so.
''Those things are going to happen, but they're going to be negotiated, and they need to be negotiated in an open forum,'' he said.
Government mandates would take away the gas owners' ability to negotiate, he said.
Duncan said the key first step must be to create a feasible project, and it's not there yet.
''The project is marginal at best,'' he said. ''When you start looking for investors, that occurs down the road after you have a project, after you've done your permitting,'' he said.
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