Alaska LNG project president says he’s done ‘preaching to the non-believers’

AGDC president Keith Meyer speaks at a public meeting in Anchorage on May 9, 2018. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Since taking the lead on the gasline project about two years ago, the Walker administration has doggedly pursued its plan for the megaproject. In the process, they’ve chalked up some successes, including interest from China’s president and a tentative agreement with BP.

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Now, the president of the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corporation says he’s no longer bothering to convince skeptics that the project is real, and it’s moving forward.

AGDC staff has been traveling across Alaska in recent weeks, holding meetings with the public to tell them about the gas line project and answer questions. During the Anchorage meeting yesterday evening, there were moments that felt less like a discussion about a complex infrastructure project, and more like a revival. After watching a promotional video for a project, the crowd of nearly 200 Alaskans erupted into applause.

“All right — who’s feeling inspired?! Let’s go build this!” AGDC communications manager Jesse Carlstrom said.

A lot of clapping and cheering came from a large cluster of people in orange shirts — all union workers. After explaining the project’s progress so far, AGDC president Keith Meyer called out a series of questions:

“You can either tell me ‘yes,’ or you can tell me ‘no.’ Don’t hem and haw, you can say it loud. Will Alaskans have preference in hiring?” Meyer asked.

“Yes!” the audience responded.

“Will there be a project labor agreement?” Meyer asked.

“Yes!” the audience replied again, breaking into another round of applause.

AGDC estimates that building the gas line from Prudhoe Bay to Nikiski would result in close to 12,000 jobs at peak construction. They’ll need carpenters, ironworkers, teamsters, welders and more. But despite its economic promise for Alaska, the project has endured a lot of skepticism, from energy analysts to the legislature to, as Meyer has a habit of saying, “the headlines.”

But now, Meyer told the crowd, he’s done “preaching to the non-believers.”

“We’re not doing that any more. Now the message is to the believers, that, ‘hey, we’ve got to get ready,’” Meyer said.

A lot needs to happen before the gas line becomes a reality. Two of the companies that own the North Slope gas haven’t agreed to sell it. The needed environmental permits won’t come through for well over a year. Also, Meyer still needs to pin down investors for the $43 billion proposal.

Still, Meyer told the crowd, “the project’s happening. We’ve got some time, we’ve got some lead time, but that’s going to disappear very, very quickly. And so every person, every small company, every large company in the state has got to get ready.”

Sitting in the audience before the meeting, Christopher Coleman-Denomie said he’s ready to get to work. Coleman-Denomie was one of the guys in the orange shirts — a member of Laborers Union Local 341. He said it took some time, but he’s become one of the gas line “believers.”

“When I first heard about this I was a little skeptical, because my parents had said that this had been talked about for years,” Coleman-Denomie said. “But nothing has been moved forward like it has now, so everything’s falling into place and it’s going to create a lot of jobs for everybody– and I’m going to be a part of that.”

But there are still Alaskans who aren’t entirely sold. Outside the meeting, a lone protester — who refused to give his name — paced the sidewalk with a sign reading, “Alaska’s biggest boondoggle yet” and the words “LNG Gasline” crossed out in red.

During the meeting, some attendees aired concerns about China’s involvement in the project, and questioned whether it can pencil out. That included Stan Porhola. He said he thinks BP’s tentative agreement to sell the gas is encouraging, “but I’m still very skeptical that this project can go through.”

“Who’s going to invest in this project, how much is it going to cost?” Porhola asked.

Porhola said he would like to see the state “move past the letters of intent and actually [get] to actual sales agreements to the different countries.”

Porhola works in the oil and gas industry, and said he’d definitely benefit if the megaproject comes to fruition. But he said Alaskans need to make sure that the project is really a good deal for the state. Before Porhola becomes another gas line “believer,” there’s a long list of questions he wants answered.

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Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.