Gov. Mike Dunleavy convened energy leaders in Anchorage this week for the second annual Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference, aimed at highlighting new opportunities for energy in the state. But a major focus on Tuesday was a very familiar project: a proposed 800-mile natural gas pipeline to run from oil fields on the North Slope to a liquefaction plant on the Kenai Peninsula.
Versions of the Alaska LNG project have been discussed for decades, but the project has mostly failed to get traction because of its high cost. Estimates place the price tag for construction at around $40 billion. But supporters argue that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year has added new uncertainty to world natural gas markets and Alaska’s project could provide stability.
Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. envoy to Japan, attended the Anchorage conference in person and spoke in favor of the project. In remarks on Tuesday, Emanuel argued that exporting Alaska’s gas could offer energy stability to parts of Asia, plus generate thousands of jobs at home.
“I believe in the promise of what Alaska has to offer as a strategic tool for the United States to win the future of the most important region in the world, the Indo-Pacific,” Emanuel said.
Emanuel predicted that as Europe turns away from Russian natural gas, there will be increased competition to supply gas to Asia. He said the U.S. should move quickly to fill that need — with Alaska’s gas.
Environmental groups criticized Emanuel’s support for developing natural gas. In a news release, the California-based group Pacific Environment and Alaska-based Cook Inletkeeper said it runs counter to the Biden administration’s climate commitments. Emanuel said he believes natural gas is necessary to support the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, a strong proponent of the pipeline, also argued that Alaska is well-positioned to supply natural gas internationally.
“We know we have enormous natural gas, conventional natural gas resources on the North Slope,” Sullivan said in a pre-recorded video. “At least a 50-year supply for us and our allies in Asia.”
Sullivan organized meetings last fall with leaders from Japan and South Korea to pitch the advantages of supplying Asia with Alaska natural gas. Among those advantages, Sullivan said, is the relatively quick shipping time across the Pacific, and the high environmental standards for Alaska gas production.
While permitting on the project has moved forward, critics like Larry Persily, former federal coordinator of Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects, say the cost and time required to build the pipeline are still prohibitive, and existing sources elsewhere in the world remain more competitive.
“There’s a lot of LNG in the world that is less risky than the Alaska project. And I think that is always going to haunt this and nothing has changed,” Persily said.
Persily added that as the world transitions away from fossil fuels, there may not be significant demand for natural gas by the time a pipeline is built.