Alaska Gas Line Passes Hurdle With Filed Reports While Federal Coordinator Office Has Layoffs

After stalling and delays last month, TransCanada and Exxon Mobil have filed draft resource reports on their proposed Alaska natural gas pipeline to the Lower 48.

Prospects for the pipeline have been looking grim after Governor Parnell encouraged gas producers to focus on a liquefied natural gas project in Alaska, and TransCanada and Exxon skipped filing their draft reports by last month’s original deadline. A glut of gas-finds and development projects in the Lower 48 and Canada have raised questions about the marketability of Alaska’s gas.

But Friday the companies took the next step in advancing the project by turning in the resource reports.

The Federal Pipeline Coordinator charged with working on a project, Larry Persily, says it’s a welcome development.

“Well they’re a couple weeks later than people expected or hoped for. But it’s good news that they’re filed, it means at least for now, the TransCanada Exxon Mobil venture is continuing through the regulatory project toward it’s October application to FERC for a certificate to build and operate the project.  Doesn’t mean they’re going to build it but it’s another step and it’s a positive step,” Persily said.
The 11 resource reports are the culmination of work that took three years and millions of dollars. They’re now with FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

They provide data on the 800 mile corridor the gas line would take from Point Thompson through Alaska to the Canadian border.  Their 4,500 pages detail the project’s potential impact on the land, bodies of water, communities, wildlife and fish and other resources along the pipeline’s expected path.

Persily says they’re chock full of valuable information.

“Even if this thing never got built, there’s a lot of good lots of good data there for state and federal agencies, communities and the rest. But assuming working toward building a project, look at it and say, here are some gaps, you’re missing some things, I don’t have the information I need. Go out and get that before you submit your final reports and complete application in October for the project.  And then that becomes the basis for environmental impact statement,” Persily said.

In another sign a project is a long way off however, the office of the Federal Pipeline Coordinator took a hit last month when Congress slashed its budget from $4 million to $1 million.

Persily laid off four of his Washington based staffers this week, leaving two in the Washington office and five in Anchorage.  He’s also moving the DC office to a significantly smaller and cheaper location.  Persily says it’s a reality of tight budgets – but that if a pipeline project does advance, he can make a case for more funding.

“It shows that Congress is fully aware it’s not being built this year and it’s not being built next year, and even with the reduced appropriation we have enough money to do the job, and if it looks like the project is going to get built we can come back to them and ask for more,” Persily said.

Persily has said he sees the odds of a gas line being built to the Lower 48 by 2020 as 50 – 50.  He says Friday’s filings don’t change the odds, but it is the next step by TransCanada and ExxonMobil to advance the project.

Because the resource reports were turned in a few weeks late, the first scoping meeting FERC had scheduled for Anchorage this month has been postponed.  Now the first one will be in Fairbanks on Jan. 30.

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