FAIRBANKS - The North Slope Borough wants to bow out of the Alaska Gasline Port Authority, a partnership formed 11 years ago between the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the North Slope Borough and the city of Valdez to promote an All-Alaska Gasline.
The municipality’s reason for dropping out of the partnership is unclear, but port authority officials say the borough’s pending withdrawal has no impact on efforts to truck natural gas to Fairbanks by 2012 or to build a gas pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez.
“This isn’t a divorce or anything,” port authority chairman and Valdez Mayor Bert Cottle said Tuesday following a 7-1 vote by the organization’s board of directors authorizing the withdrawal. No debate preceded the vote, which was held after the board came out of a closed-door meeting.
“Nothing’s changed,” Cottle said. “The mission of the port authority has been and still remains to get gas to Alaskans. That hasn’t changed whether there’s two entities or three entities.”
Harold Curran, the North Slope Borough’s Chief Administrative Officer and a member of the port authority board of directors, declined to say why the North Slope is pulling out until the North Slope Borough Assembly meets to discuss the matter on April 6.
The Fairbanks and North Slope assemblies along with the Valdez City Council must approve the withdrawal by June 15 before it’s final.
Luke Hopkins, the Fairbanks borough mayor and also a member of the port authority’s board of directors, said he thinks the withdrawal is because of the port authority’s pending project to buy Fairbanks Natural Gas LLC and truck liquefied natural gas down the haul road to Fairbanks.
The plan deviates from the port authority’s original mandate to advance a gas pipeline.
Hopkins has been promoting the $250 million project to truck gas to Fairbanks as a way to get gas from the North Slope more quickly as the pipeline project progresses. But, Hopkins said, the so-called bridge project provides little benefit to the North Slope Borough.
“They feel that this is a point in time when they can let us go forward and get low cost energy to our communities,” Hopkins said.
Curran said the reason for the North Slope Borough’s pending withdrawal is more complex than characterized by Hopkins.
Curran agreed with other port authority officials who said the gas pipeline will progress independent of whether the North Slope Borough belongs to the port authority.
Curran said the port authority has served its purpose by emphasizing the importance of an in-state gas pipelin.
“Us being in or out of the port authority isn’t central to whether there could be a pipeline to Valdez,” Curran said. “There are opportunities in motion now. They don’t require the port authority to accomplish that.”
Hopkins said discussions are happening among port authority officials about whether the agency should drop its mandate to advance the gas pipeline and focus solely on the bridge project. Hopkins opposes the idea, he said.