Two months after U.S. and Chinese officials signed a joint development agreement (JDA) to finance Alaska’s long-held plans to export natural gas, Gov. Bill Walker called the accord the “most promising economic opportunity” to develop the state’s vast natural gas reserves and diversify its energy portfolio.

During his State of the State address on Thursday, Walker said the JDA has put the Alaska liquefied natural gas (LNG) project at its closest point to completion.

“Nothing on Alaska’s horizon has a greater potential to fuel and propel our prosperity than this opportunity,” Walker said. “Jobs, low-cost energy for Alaskan homes and businesses, cleaner air and a healthy economy across the state are what is at stake. And with a strong project labor agreement, Alaskans will be first in line to work on a gasline.”

Walker and four other parties signed the JDA in Beijing last November, during President Trump’s first state visit to China. The other signatories were China’s state-owned Sinopec Group; the Bank of China; China Investment Corp.; and the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. (AGDC).

“China’s participants in the LNG project are among the largest companies and energy consumers in the world,” Walker said. “They include the world’s largest integrated oil and gas company, the world’s fourth largest bank and the world’s second largest sovereign wealth fund…

“China has long been Alaska’s largest trade partner. With its 1.4 billion population, China wants Alaska’s clean burning gas.”

The Alaska LNG Project, estimated to cost $43-60 billion, would have the capacity to annually export up to 20 million metric tons of LNG. The project is to include a three-train liquefaction plant in Southcentral Alaska at Nikiski; an 800-mile, 1.1 meter diameter gas pipeline; a North Slope gas treatment plant; and interconnecting facilities to connect the Prudhoe Bay gas complex to the gas treatment plant.

Walker said the project has the “full support” of Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Both leaders now have a vested interest in its success. At the federal level, AGDC has been granted tax-exempt status, which significantly improves the project’s economics. The White House has also granted fast-track status to the project to help expedite review and permitting.”

Walker added that since the JDA’s signing, he has held meetings in the state capital, Juneau, with chief executives of three North Slope producers. “We had productive, in-depth discussions on securing gas supply and on the mutual benefits of this project for their companies and for Alaska,” he said. “The companies are engaged and those high-level talks are continuing…

“A project like the Alaska LNG project does not come together overnight, and there is still much work to do. But together, we are proving that when Alaska takes the lead, Alaskans get the job done.”