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Federal, State Alaska Gasline Leaders Quit

As two competing Alaska-Lower 48 gasline projects creep toward their respective open seasons, last week saw the resignations of the gasline's federal coordinator, as well as that of the project manager for a separate gasline to serve in-state needs.

Drue Pearce, the federal coordinator, said she will resign effective Jan. 3 at President Obama's request. And in-state gasline Project Manager Harry Noah said he will leave his post once a replacement is found.

"Today I announce my intention to step down as the federal coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects effective Jan. 3, 2010. The president requested my resignation," Pearce said.

"It has been an honor to [start] up a new federal agency and to serve as the first federal coordinator. I am a passionate supporter of the agency's mission to bring Alaska natural gas to North American markets. I leave an effective and efficient agency with a highly skilled team of professionals actively pursuing our mission. It has been a profound privilege to lead this innovative team."

Pearce will be replaced on a temporary basis by Vice Admiral Thomas Barrett, U.S. Coast Guard (retired), the deputy federal coordinator. A permanent replacement is yet to be named.

Pearce, who was senior adviser to the secretary for Alaska Affairs at the U.S. Department of Interior, was appointed federal coordinator in June 2006 by former President Bush. Before she joined the Interior Department Pearce was a member of the Alaska Senate, where she served as Senate president twice. She also served two terms in the Alaska House of Representatives. Presidential appointees generally are expected to submit their resignations when a new administration takes office.

In announcing Noah's resignation, Gov. Sean Parnell said his administration remains committed to pursuing an in-state gasline to serve the gas-short Southcentral region, where utilities have struggled to procure supplies amid regional production declines (see NGI, Sept. 7).

"Considerable work has been done evaluating a stand-alone pipeline from both the North Slope and the foothills of the Brooks Range to Fairbanks and Southcentral, and a spur line to Southcentral from a major pipeline to the Lower 48," Parnell's office noted.

The in-state gasline project manager is charged with developing design and permitting data for a small-diameter pipeline from the North Slope to Cook Inlet. The data and permits would then be made available for private development of the project. While Noah said he was quitting to devote more time to a family business in Oregon, some Alaska lawmakers suggested that he resigned under pressure from the state's Department of Natural Resources, which is pursuing the pipeline to serve the Lower 48, according to a report in the Anchorage Daily News.

"Harry has been a vital part of the team and has laid a great foundation for in-state gas line options," Parnell said. "We will keep this work moving forward." A search for Noah's replacement will begin immediately, the governor's office said.

Before she resigned, former Gov. Sarah Palin promised to push for an in-state gasline (see NGI, Jan. 26).

Alaska has sought for decades a gas pipeline that would allow the commercialization of its vast gas reserves on the North Slope. The latest state-sanctioned effort, under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA), a product of Palin's administration, yielded a concession for TransCanada Corp. (see NGI, Nov. 9). However, the selection process was criticized by many in and outside Alaska (see NGI, Nov. 2). In June ExxonMobil said it would work with TransCanada on development of its project (see NGI, June 15).

A rival pipeline proposal, called Denali and backed by ConocoPhillips and BP, is still in the running as well (see NGI, Feb. 23). In an update sent to Alaska lawmakers recently, Denali President Bud Fackrell said the pipeline was working toward holding an open season some time next year.

"Denali has continued to work closely with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Office of the Federal Coordinator as well as other U.S. federal and Alaska state agencies to ensure a common understanding of the framework for the required regulatory approvals," the Denali update said. "In addition, Denali has entered into reimbursable services agreements with the U.S Bureau of Land Management and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources that will allow both agencies to work closely with Denali as it progresses its right-of-way efforts in Alaska."

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