With his gubernatorial legacy somewhat on the line, Alaska’s lame duck Gov. Frank Murkowski attempted to reach out to his opponents on Wednesday in the hopes of securing a natural gas pipeline contract, warning that unless a special session is agreed upon by the Alaska legislature, plans to build the much ballyhooed gasline are in “significant peril.”
Murkowski told reporters during a press briefing Wednesday that he met with some state legislative leaders and producer representatives at a private dinner on Tuesday. Now, he said, he is awaiting word from the legislators “with regards to the merits of a special session” to consider completing natural gas pipeline contract negotiations.
Last week, Murkowski lost in a brutal Republican primary battle (see Daily GPI, Aug. 24), which many fear may have crushed any hopes of securing a gasline contract in the near term. Before he leaves office in December, Murkowski wants to secure a pipeline contract he negotiated earlier this year with the largest North Slope producers: BP plc, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil Corp. (see Daily GPI, May 12).
The governor said he met privately with only Republican leaders Tuesday night because they are the ones in charge of the state’s legislative process. Without their support, a special session can’t be called. “What we were attempting to do is evaluate the level of interest in pursuing the contract in a special session,” Murkowski said.
However, it may take more than a good meal to put the lawmakers in an agreeable state of mind. Murkowski allowed that the legislators had a “list of items necessary” that would have to be negotiated during a special session “prior to any further movement,” and if the producers were not willing to negotiate, more legislative action this year was not expected. Murkowski said the leadership had cited “issues of fiscal certainty, labor agreements, dispute resolutions and…the implications of a reserves tax” as areas for negotiation.
“It was a meaningful meeting,” Murkowski said. “Producers have basically agreed that we need to involve special members of the legislature, selected by the leadership, to resolve outstanding items…and see if we can resolve them satisfactorily. The producers have indicated that these items were negotiable, [if legislators] are willing to pursue it.”
If both the House and Senate agree to a special session, one would be called beginning on Sept. 16. The session would last no longer than 30 days, but the governor noted it probably would be a short session.
“This is an effort to finish a process that we started,” he said. “Most Alaskans feel it is in the best interests of the state to get a gasline…Any other alternative does not meet the basic economic test to develop these gas reserves, and that’s pretty evident.”
Murkowski said he welcomed input from the three gubernatorial candidates who will face off for his seat in November. “I want to get this done. If they have other views, they have other views. We have made our investment of an extraordinary amount of time and effort.” The contract now before the legislature is the “only viable project that’s going to get us a gasline in a time frame most Alaskans expect. To ignore this as a consequence of the primary election…is irresponsible.
“Most Alaskans agree with us, and they don’t want to risk an unreasonable time frame. Many of the producers will tell you we either develop this gas, or other gas gets marketed. Their return on investment is the riskiest, most expensive, biggest ever undertaken in North America and it’s ready to go…subject to the outstanding issues identified. The legislative process is the way it has to be.”
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