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A timeline of Alaska gas efforts

1976: The U.S. Congress passed the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Act in an effort to encourage the construction of a gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to the Lower 48.

1980: A Right-Of-Way license was issued by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission to the Alaskan Northwest Natural Gas Transportation Company. In 2008, that license was voluntarily withdrawn. There are many conflicting opinions why this effort failed to deliver fuel gas to a large U.S. market. The primary reason was the refusal of the oil field producers to provide marketable (high quality) natural gas from the Prudhoe Bay field.

1987: The Export Authority, created by the Alaska Legislature in 1967, is renamed the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. The organization is given additional authorities especially financial powers and also the right to purchase businesses and property.

1999: The Alaska Gasline Port Authority was formed. AGPA is comprised of the three boroughs, Valdez, Fairbanks North Star and North Slope. The mission of this group is to develop a liquefied natural gas export system based in Valdez. The source of fuel gas is from the Prudhoe Bay oil field.

2003: The state of Alaska formed the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority, whose mission is to develop a natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez and a spur line to Southcentral Alaska.

2004: The U.S. Congress passed the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline Act to resolve or clarify many issues attendant to the permitting of an interstate Alaska natural gas pipeline. ANGPA also provided an $18 billion loan guarantee and some tax relief.

2007: The state of Alaska passed the Alaska Gas Inducement Act. AGIA would provide a $500 million matching contribution to the construction of a gas line from Prudhoe Bay through Fairbanks, Delta Junction, Tok Junction and into Canada following the Alaska Highway. Notice that the matching contribution seems to be the only inducement in this vehicle.

2008: TransCanada, a gas pipeline company, was awarded the only AGIA license. TransCanada states their pipeline would not be completed until 2018. Denali Pipeline was created by British Petroleum and Conoco in competition with TransCanada for the AGIA license and continued on with their project after TransCanada was selected by AGIA.

2009: The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation is created by the Legislature to advance the plans for Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline, another plan with no forward momentum.   

2011: Denali Pipeline discontinues their pipeline project.

2014: TransCanada terminates the AGIA license but expresses an interest in building a pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Southcentral Alaska (Nikiski) because of the work already accomplished under the AGIA plan. It is this position that Gov. Bill Walker wants to purchase for $100 million. A definitive plan or project does not exist to deliver high-quality natural gas to the LNG port in Nikiski. The Alaska LNG Project is added to AGDC’s responsibilities.

The Cook Inlet natural gas supply is dwindling at a continuous rate. Fairbanks Natural Gas buys its gas at Point Mackenzie in the Matanuska Valley from Enstar. FNG has had to pass on increasing prices to the local customers in Fairbanks. FNG is unable to expand its distribution in Fairbanks because of Enstar pricing and allocation. The expected shutdown of Cook Inlet natural gas sources will happen by 2020 unless a new gas field is found. At this point, there is no alternative source other than Prudhoe Bay.

FNG is trying its best to acquire quality natural gas in Prudhoe Bay, to no avail. The Prudhoe Bay gas is of extremely low quality because it contains 12 percent carbon dioxide (CO2) and approximately 76 percent methane. FNG cannot produce LNG (frozen methane) at Prudhoe Bay without extracting all of the CO2. This is because CO2 freezes much sooner than methane and therefore causes all kinds of freezing cycle stoppages. FNG and/or their producer must build an extraction system before a freezing system. Then there is the disposal issue. What do you do with all the CO2 that is extracted? FNG was purchased by AIDEA in 2015. AIDEA is spending a large amount of money to build gas storage and distribution systems in North Pole and Fairbanks without a guaranteed source of natural gas.  

This is good news to the refineries and the liquid fuel distributors. They have some positive future expectations. We consumers in Alaska are facing a dilemma though. We must contend with a status quo situation well into the next years and maybe even longer. Large fuel oil bills will become even larger in size there is no doubt about that. The natural gas users are facing a grim future. They must think of reverting back to liquid fuel.

Two facades are in place in Alaska.

1. AIDEA has spent a large amount of money on a natural gas supply system in the Fairbanks and North Pole area without any guaranteed source.

2. Gov. Walker wants to pay TransCanada pipeline $100 million dollars for their interest in a pipeline project that does not exist. The Alaska LNG Project is only a plan, just like all the other plans before it. A schedule and budget does not exist. The media has reported proposed costs as high as $65 billion. 

Herb Butler is a retired oilfield and refinery engineer who spent decades working in the oil and gas industry in Alaska. He lives in Fairbanks.

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