Alaska's gubernatorial candidates have hugely different visions for a natural gas pipeline long touted as savior of the state's economy. One says it's a pipe dream to think Alaska will export much gas any time soon. Others argue the state should finance multibillion-dollar pipelines from the North Slope to Fairbanks or Valdez.
The pipeline was a central issue in the candidates' first major debate Wednesday in front of an Alaska State Chamber of Commerce audience in Anchorage.
Republican candidate Ralph Samuels said the market no longer exists for a big gas pipeline from the North Slope. The large new supplies of natural gas discovered in Lower 48 shale means Alaska has missed its chance for the near term, he said.
"My belief is the window for a major gas sale for the time being has shut on us," Samuels said. "Shale gas has changed the world."
He charged that the state wasted years and $500 million on the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, which led to a partnership with the TransCanada pipeline company that "brings nothing of value to the project." He said the state should now invest in a small "bullet line" to bring natural gas to consumers in Fairbanks, Southcentral and the Kenai Peninsula, where a plant already exports some gas to Japan.
Republican candidate Bill Walker agreed there is no gas pipeline coming to the Lower 48. But Walker has a far more ambitious alternative than Samuels is proposing. "All the (Samuels) small line does is guarantee we'll keep the lights on and keep the heat on during the foreclosure process of our state," he said.
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