Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski met face to face Wednesday in Houston with the CEOs of the three big North Slope producers — BP, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips — to negotiate terms of a North Slope natural gas pipeline contract, which he wants in place by this fall.

The negotiations remain confidential, and state officials would not disclose if they are close to a deal.

Murkowski wants a contract so the Alaska legislature can consider a North Slope pipeline, which would deliver gas to the Lower 48, during a special session before the end of the year. The producers and the state have been haggling over several issues, including how taxes and royalties will be determined, as well as whether the state may own a portion of the pipe (see Daily GPI, July 29).

The trip to Houston by Murkowski brought a “heightened level of interaction,” said spokeswoman Becky Hultberg. Up to now, most of the negotiations have been led by Jim Clark, Murkowski’s chief of staff in Alaska between state officials and the oil companies’ representatives.

Hultberg said Murkowski’s trip was a “step in the ongoing process” to reach a gas line deal. However, she said the plan is still to have a contract in place for a special legislative session. Once a preliminary agreement is in place, the state will need time for a public comment period, which would take at least 30 days. State officials then would have to negotiate any changes needed before the contract is submitted to lawmakers for debate and a vote.

According to state officials, the special session needs to be underway before Thanksgiving to meet legislators’ schedules. The contract also could be handled during the regular legislative session, which begins in January. However, Murkowski has indicated he wants the legislature to consider the gas line during a special session to avoid distractions with other state issues.

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