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Public comment on proposed Alaska gas line runs the gamut
By RICHARD RICHTMYER

 

August 02, 2006
Wednesday PM


ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- More than 2,100 Alaskans weighed in on Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposed natural gas pipeline contract during a public comment period that ended last week.

Their comments, which state officials have posted online, run the gamut from an anonymous person's profanity-laced attack on the governor and BP to thoughtful critiques of the 460-page contract from state lawmakers and oil industry executives.

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Murkowski and his top aides negotiated the contract in private with BP, Conoco Phillips and Exxon Mobil for more than two years. They unveiled the draft deal for public and legislative review and comment in early May.

State officials sought public input on the proposed contract during a series of hearings throughout the state. They also accepted written comments.

The administration, in response to concerns raised during the public review period, will seek to renegotiate some of the contract's terms, said Murkowski Chief of Staff Jim Clark, who leads the pipeline team.

The draft deal under consideration isn't a contract to build a pipeline. Rather, it would set tax, ownership and other state terms if the companies built a line to carry the North Slope's massive gas reserves to Lower 48 markets.

It also has become the central theme in the governor's race, in which Murkowski faces two challengers for the Republican nomination in the Aug. 22 primary election.

Most of the public comments were "general statements" that don't address specific contract terms, said deputy revenue commissioner Steve Porter. About 10 percent are specific, focusing on key areas and recommending changes, he said.

For instance, Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, submitted on behalf of legislative Democrats a 29-page assessment of all 41 of the contract's articles along with proposed changes to each of them.

Other lawmakers, as well as oil companies and individual Alaskans, provided substantive comments on the contract terms and recommended specific changes.

On the other extreme was a 123-word diatribe - No. 1,715 in the list of comments posted online - from a person who did not give a name but hurled a series of expletives to express displeasure with Murkowski and BP, called the hearing panelists a crude name, then thanked them and wished them a good day.

Porter said the Revenue Department, which organized the public hearings, will sort through and analyze the public comments over the next few weeks.

Some of the main concerns the public has raised mirror those that state lawmakers have expressed, including a provision to freeze the three companies' oil production taxes for decades, Clark said.

Other proposed changes include getting a stronger commitment from the producers to build a project, putting more emphasis on hiring Alaskans and writing in stronger assurances that the gas would be available for use in Alaska.

Clark said all of those are on the list of items the pipeline team will consider renegotiating.

Under state law, proposed changes to the draft contract must be done by Aug. 23. But because state lawmakers are still working on oil tax and other pipeline-related legislation, the administration is likely to need a little more time to renegotiate the deal with the three producers. That may mean the administration will have to ask the Legislature to amend state law to extend the deadline, Clark said.


Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service, http://www.shns.com


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