Monday, May 24, 2010

Alaska Republican Gubernatorial Candidates Sean Parnell, Ralph Samuels, And Bill Walker Debate Natural Gas In Fairbanks

Alaska's three leading Republican gubernatorial candidates squared off in Fairbanks on May 23rd, 2010 to debate over natural gas and other issues. While Ralph Samuels and Bill Walker were there in person, incumbent Sean Parnell, who had another commitment, addressed the questions in a taped video response. The debate, which was sponsored by the Fairbanks Republican Women, was held at Pike's Waterfront Lodge, which is owned by Rep. Jay Ramras (R-Fairbanks). Ramras is one of three Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, and he's known to be more sympathetic towards Ralph Samuels' ideas for a natural gas pipeline.

Natural gas was the primary subject of discussion, and triggered the sharpest debate. Gov. Parnell continues to favor Sarah Palin's AGIA brainchild, which some producers believe is not economically viable. Gene Therriault, who spoke on behalf of Parnell at the debate, said TransCanada’s AGIA application to transport gas to the Lower 48 through Canada is the most realistic opportunity for development. But a significant disadvantage is that even if construction began today, gas would not start to flow regularly until towards the end of the decade.

But Ralph Samuels said the flood of shale gas on the world market has dampened the prospects for a major pipeline and makes it important to focus instead on a smaller “bullet line” that would rapidly provide natural gas to Alaska communities. He said a small tariff on that gas could be used to offset energy costs throughout the state. The advantage of this proposal is that it would explicitly serve Alaska first; Fairbanks is the largest city in the United States without any natural gas service, most Bush communities must rely on high-priced diesel, and South Central Alaska's natural gas supplies in Cook Inlet are dwindling. Read more details about Ralph Samuels' proposal HERE.

Meanwhile, Bill Walker, who is also the attorney for the Alaska Gasline Port Authority, which is pursuing a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez, strongly disagreed those ideas, saying Parnell’s AGIA approach amounts to nothing more than a state subsidy for a Canadian company, and said the administration has virtually eliminated all other options. He said Samuels' idea of limiting development to a bullet line would hinder Alaska’s long-term growth potential. Under Walker's All-Alaska pipeline project, tankers would then load the gas at Valdez and transport it to customers. Walker believes there's a strong future market for Asia's growing population. On his website, Walker cites an April Craciun poll which shows that while 77 percent of respondents support his All Alaska Initiative, only 39.6 percent support that TransCanada AGIA proposal, and only 40 percent support the competing large diameter Denali Pipeline project proposed by BP and Conoco Phillips. Note that this was back in April, before the big oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico; one can only imagine how far support for Denali has fallen by now. Read more details about Bill Walker's proposal HERE.

In an earlier essay, Andrew Halcro disagreed with Walker's proposal, citing 2007 statistics showing that while 90 percent of the world's gas was delivered by pipeline, just 8 percent was delivered by LNG tanker. However, Halcro disregards the fact that one of the bidders for the AGIA contract was a Chinese consortium, Sinope, which implies that at least the Chinese are interested in Alaskan gas.

Other subjects discussed included Gov. Parnell's new statewide college scholarship program, federal regulations that limit resource development in Alaska, and the recently-passed Obamacare health care bill. All three candidates agreed that Alaska should fight the health care law in court, which Parnell is already doing.

Other Republicans in the gubernatorial race include Gerald Heikes, Sam Little, and Merica Hlatcu. The Alaska primary election will be held on August 24th.

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