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The ground is shifting under Alaska’s feet — figuratively and literally.
Gov. Bill Walker didn’t know Jan. 18 when he presented his State of the State address to Alaskans that less than a week later an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.1 would occur off the Alaska coast. But, the quake illustrates a shifting Alaska.
Here in the Southeast, the timber industry reigned as the supreme engine for the economy for decades. It has since seen tourism take its place. Commercial fishing also took the top slot for a while.
All of these industries have prompted infrastructure projects in the communities from which they operate.
Surely, if history is evidence, and it is, new infrastructure and new industries will prevail in decades to come. But nothing stays at the top indefinitely; each has its heyday, and, sometimes, its comeback. As an example, mining, which helped launch Ketchikan, is poised to return in the southern Southeast region on Prince of Wales Island. Whether that happens in the next decade or decades in the future, it’s likely.
The same is true of the oil industry. It has been the state’s revenue source for multiple decades, and despite the period of lower oil prices and declining Alaska production, given Alaska’s supply, it will continue to be a key element of the economy.
But no longer can Alaska rely as heavily on oil — at least not presently. And, because of that, there’s wisdom in pursuing other opportunities.
One of those opportunities is development of Alaska’s natural gas, and to Walker’s way of thinking, it is the best opportunity the state has going for it.
Walker, working with the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation that the Legislature formed in 2010, has been courting China, Alaska’s largest trading partner.
In November, Walker traveled to Beijing with President Donald Trump, where the governor signed an agreement pertaining to natural gas with China.
China wants Alaska’s natural gas to supply clean-burning energy to its 1.4 million people.
The Trump administration is committed to moving quickly on reviewing and permitting Alaska’s gasoline project, and the federal government has granted the state’s Gasoline Development Corporation tax-exempt status to improve the project’s economics.
Walker also has been meeting with oil corporations operating in Alaska in regard to securing the gas supply for its development.
The project would provide jobs, secure energy in Alaska as well as China and create an increasingly stable economy for the state. Natural gas also is low cost at present.
The Trump administration has opened Alaska’s coast to off-shore oil development and reversed a ban on oil development in a small part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, both of which are welcomed developments in Alaska.
But, history shows that industry cycles up and down over time. Alaska needs to pursue all economic opportunities to be fiscally fine. The time has come for natural gas.