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Conoco cancels gas line meeting

Posted: Wednesday, October 26, 2005

ConocoPhillips canceled a meeting with some Alaska legislators at the last minute Tuesday after an Anchorage Democratic representative raised questions about the meeting's legality, said company spokeswoman Dawn Patience.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, asked the legislative legal counsel if the meeting is subject to Alaska's open meetings guidelines.

"It seems to me that if a big oil company is talking to the Legislature it should be an open meeting," Gara said.

In a two-page memo issued Tuesday, Legislative Counsel Barbara Craver wrote, "It is my opinion that a legislator attending could be subject to an ethics complaint.

"There are no formal advisory opinions issued by the ethics committee that apply in this situation," Craver wrote.

Gov. Frank Murkowski held a press conference Friday announcing the state and ConocoPhillips had agreed to base fiscal terms to a Stranded Gas Act contract. He said the state is still working on an agreement with BP and ExxonMobil.

"One legislator had ex-pressed a concern," Patience said about the decision to cancel.

When initially questioned about the meeting Tuesday morning, Patience was tight-lipped declining to confirm if the meeting was being held. Later in the day she changed her mind, issuing a written statement about the meeting.

The statement said the press had the chance to ask questions about the agreement Friday. Monday's meeting was a chance for the state's legislators to ask questions about the agreement between the company and the state.

At Friday's press conference, only a couple of people were allowed to ask questions before Murkowski's press secretary cut off further questioning.

Patience declined requests from the Clarion to listen to the meeting that was originally scheduled for Tuesday, saying it would not be appropriate.

"It's a business meeting," she said.

About 10 minutes before the 3 p.m. meeting was scheduled to take place, Patience said the meeting had been canceled.

It was not clear Tuesday which legislators, including those from the Kenai Peninsula, planned to attend the meeting and no list of participants was issued.

Patience said following Friday's announcement, ConocoPhillips had a series of meetings with various community business leaders and other members of the public.

"We really want to have an open communication."

Although she decline re-quests from the press to listen to the meeting, she said the points to be covered were the same ones covered during Friday's press conference.

House Speaker Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, said the meeting would not necessarily constitute an ethics violation if it was only for the purpose of information-gathering.

"I think it would be in the best interest of all legislators to gather as much information as they can," Harris said.

If strategy was discussed during the meeting, then it would constitute an ethics violation, he said.

"If there ever is a contract negotiated between the administration and the producers, or the (Alaska Gasline) Port Authority — or any other group, the public is going to have a large amount of time to hear and see and know everything there is to know," he said. "That's what I think the public has to look forward to."



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