From permafrost to polar bears, draft report evaluates Alaska gasline’s environmental impact

A liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker fills up at the ConocoPhillips liquid natural gas export facility in Nikiski, Alaska. When it opened in 1969, it was the only facility of its kind in the U.S. to get a license to export its gas to Japan. For more than 40 years, the state has attempted to develop similar projects to bring natural gas from the North Slope to market. None of those projects have broken ground. (Photo courtesy of ConocoPhillips)

The federal agency leading the environmental review of the Alaska LNG project has released a nearly 3800-page draft report on its potential impacts. 

Staff at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, have been working in tandem with nine other federal agencies, including the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop the report since 2017 when the state’s gasline corporation filed for a permit to build the $43 billion project.  

That’s when the state’s gasline corporation filed for its federal permit to build the $43 billion project. The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation plans to pipe natural gas more than 800 miles from the North Slope to Nikiski, where it would be liquefied and then shipped off to customers.  

Staff at the federal agency found that the Alaska LNG project would have significant impacts on permafrost, wetlands and forest, and that it would likely cause problems for the Central Arctic Caribou Herd. Constructing and operating the project would likely affect six federally listed species, including Cook Inlet beluga whales and polar bears. They also said the project could negatively affect housing and public services in some areas. 

But they also concluded that the project would have a positive impact on state and local economies.

If everything stays on schedule, the federal commission could vote on the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation’s application by June 2020.

If built, it would be one of the largest LNG projects in the world. But along with final federal approval — the state’s project needs customers, investors and financing to be viable.

That federal agency will take public comments on its draft environmental review through October 3rd. The agency will hold public meetings in Alaska to go over the report, but it has not yet announced the dates or locations. 

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk , she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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