Tapping Alaska’s dreams: Kenai Peninsula is a microcosm of state issues that need solutions

Democrat, Gubernatorial Race

Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2006

My wife Susan and I, newly married, came to Alaska with a dream. I was fresh out of the Army and out of college — and jumped into the Alaska oil patch. I worked at Prudhoe Well No. 2 and on the Grayling Platform in Cook Inlet, my first Alaska jobs. They were life-changing experiences.

We worked hard, built a grubstake, established successful businesses, started a family and got involved in civic affairs. We chased our goals and achieved our Alaska dream.

I want my children and later generations to have the opportunities to make their dreams real. That’s why it is so important to build a North Slope natural gasline. That’s why I’m running for governor. We can build a prosperous Alaska with this next wave of resource wealth.

My top priority as governor is a gas deal on Alaska’s terms. Our prosperity, our opportunities and our dreams depend on it. I want every serious proposal on my desk by January 31, 2007.

My negotiations will be fair, open and tough to get the best deal for Alaska: (1) natural gas for Southcentral and Kenai Peninsula homes, businesses and communities, (2) local recruiting, training and hiring, (3) financial commitments to the project and the state, (4) and benchmarks we can count on, including a timetable.

The Kenai Peninsula — Alaska’s first oil and gas province — needs energy, just as the rest of the state does. Cook Inlet oil production peaked 30 years ago, but holds 94 million barrels of untapped proven reserves. Cook Inlet gas production peaked 10 years ago, but 1.6 trillion cubic feet remain.

We will get a natural gas pipeline deal, but we won’t have North Slope gas for a decade, and we have needs now.

ENERGY. The short-term solution: drill locally. Let’s tap Cook Inlet reserves and promote new exploration. A medium-term solution: the Blue Sky Project, a coal gasification plant that would give Agrium the feedstock to stay open while producing gas to power the region. Blue Sky would use coal from existing Healy production and spur development of Beluga coal. We can also explore coal-to-liquids. I favor state support to determine the feasibility of these projects. These investments — $2 billion for coal gasification, $5 billion for coal-to-liquids — will have long-term payoffs and represent the most ambitious energy proposals in the state after the gasline.

EDUCATION. Let’s boost vocational and technical training. That’s how we get a home-grown skilled workforce for Cook Inlet projects and the North Slope gasline. The Peninsula’s premier training grounds, AVTEC and the Mining and Petroleum Training Service, can deliver skilled workers. New resource revenues can help us create an Education Fund for Excellence to fully fund K-12, along with fair geographic cost differentials.

PERS-TRS. Let’s cut through the confusion, determine exactly what the unfunded liability is and solve the problem. This is the state’s responsibility; it should not be put on the backs of local taxpayers. I propose returning to a defined benefit program to attract and keep the best teachers, first responders and those who deliver public services.

TOURISM. I intend to boost tourism marketing. We can offer better national and international marketing of Alaska to stretch regional marketing dollars.

FISHERIES. I support biologically based management that benefits all users to the greatest degree possible. We should work on value-added products.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. Every economic sector needs an affordable supply of energy, from Agrium, which had to close for the winter, to Tesoro, which imports crude to operate at capacity and is building a $45 million ultra-low sulfur refining operation. We must work to protect and grow the Nikiski industrial base. We should build oil field modules locally, like we did for Alpine. Schools, fishermen, tourism, our economy, all need affordable energy to thrive.

The Kenai’s economic diversity and quality of life show the Peninsula to be a mini-Alaska.

Whether you’re hauling in a king salmon or an oil paycheck, whether you earn your money from tourists or locals, whether you’re on the Kenai for a job or for retirement, we are all Alaskans chasing our dreams.

Tony Knowles served two terms as governor, 1994-2002, and two terms as mayor of Anchorage, 1982-88. He is now running for a third term as governor.

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