Alaska's Side of Natural Gas Pipeline Debate Left on Cutting Room Floor
September 23, 2003
Murkowski said 60 Minutes should have told the whole story of the differences between the two competing pipeline proposals to move natural gas to the Lower 48. In the 60 Minutes report, Stahl and her producers focused their story on a pipeline route that would follow off-shore from ANWR to the MacKenzie delta, but did not include the Governor's argument as to why that route would be just as costly and more technically difficult.
"In the tradition of 60 Minutes to try to create a controversy, they chose not to point out the major differences between the two routes -- differences that favor the southern route," Murkowski said. "Nor did they report that the two routes would probably cost consumers the same because of construction challenges. In my interview with Lesley Stahl, I explained the many difficult challenges associated with the over-the-top route. I was surprised that they did not even blink when Mr. Hoglund said the pipeline could be built by just cutting through eight feet of ice, burying it in the sea floor and never having to see it again."
In the August 26 interview at Prudhoe Bay, Murkowski discussed the technical challenges at length with Stahl, including the fact that the sea ice is only open about two months each year, leaving a very small window for construction and maintenance. Scouring by sea ice in the winter could also be a huge problem.
The migration of bowhead whales along the coast is an intense concern to the indigenous Inupiat Eskimos who live on the North Slope. Murkowski also pointed out that if it would be necessary to loop the line by installing two pipes, that would make the line nearly as long as the alternative southern route along the Alaska Highway.
Considering the technical and construction challenges, Murkowski said it would take many years to permit the over-the-top line, delaying construction and costing more to the ultimate consumers.
"I also told her that the southern route would be accessible for maintenance and other needs because it would follow existing highway and pipeline corridors," Murkowski said. "Lesley Stahl suggested that we would have to put the southern route pipeline 'over the mountains,' but I explained that it would go through the same mountain passes that the highway uses.
"Recognizing all these considerations, it is no accident that two successive Congresses, under both Democrat and Republican leadership, have opposed the over-the-top route, as has the Alaska Legislature," Murkowski said.
"I was also concerned that 60 Minutes would characterize the pipeline as a porkbarrel project that benefits only Alaskans. In the first place, the commodity risk provision doesn't kick in unless the price of gas drops below $1.35 per thousand cubic feet. This makes it less of a subsidy than the 56 cents per gallon subsidy on ethanol, which is also in the energy bill. It is not unusual for Congress to provide a tax incentive for an energy project that is clearly in the national interest, and, in fact, the federal statutes are replete with such incentives."
Murkowski said he was also disappointed with 60 Minutes characterization of Alaskans, and himself, as inflexible, and perhaps greedy. "One huge benefit of having the pipeline go through Interior Alaska is that we would be able to bring natural gas to that marketplace, as well as spur lines to Kenai and Valdez. There is nothing wrong with that. Alaskans are also Americans who should obtain the job benefits associated with the gas line and should be able to use some of their gas themselves.
"Our message is simple: America needs our natural gas. The so-called subsidy, the commodity risk provision, may never even kick in, but is needed for the comfort level of the financial institutions that would finance the project. And it is the biggest private construction project ever considered for America, and would provide tens of thousands of jobs throughout the country. Again, 60 Minutes could have provided a better public service by telling the whole story, so their viewers would have a good understanding of the issue."
The Office of the Governor will air one-half hour of the two-hour long interview between Murkowski and Stahl on Friday, October 3 on GCI Cable at 7 pm, and repeats on GCI on Sunday, October 5 at 5 pm. It will also air on the Alaska Rural Communications System (ARCS) at 9:30 pm on Friday, October 3.
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