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8/8/2015
Stedman: Fall special session likely

By NICK BOWMAN

Daily News Staff Writer

There’s a “high likelihood” of a fall special session on the state’s natural gas project, said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, on Thursday.

Both issues are time sensitive, but the state could suffer financial penalties if a decision isn’t made about TransCanada’s role in the project before the end of the year.

Gov. Bill Walker has discussed buying out the energy infrastructure corporation’s stake in the gas project, should it happen, to give the state 25 percent ownership of both the pipeline and a North Slope liquefaction plant.

Stedman, a close observer of Alaska’s energy industry, was confident the gas line will be constructed.

“I think we have a project,” he said. “It's just a matter of ... having a new administration come up to speed with what's put in place not only with Parnell, but Palin and Murkowski, because they've all worked on it.”

Governors Sean Parnell, Sarah Palin and Frank Murkowski have preceded Walker, an independent.

With oil prices holding well below projections, leaving the state starved for cash, the gas line has been discussed as a possible source of desperately needed revenue.

But building it won’t be cheap.

It would cost more than $100 million to buy out TransCanada. The state’s current cost estimate for the total project is between $45 billion and $65 billion.

Stedman said the gas line project could possibly last the state for a century.

“You can spend it today and put the state in a better fiscal position for revenue generations tomorrow, or you can have a shorter sighted view and not do it,” he said. “... You're taking a decision that is multiple generations long and compressing it into a one-year or several-year event. You really need to take the current fiscal position of the state and kind of put it over your shoulder.”

The Alaska?Legislature’s most recent special session, called mostly to resolve state budget disagreements, made headlines recently because of its almost $1 million price tag.

Stedman said the cost of the session is insignificant compared to the cost, and potential value, of the gas line project the Legislature would debate.

He also said he wasn’t sure about how long the session, which could be called in either October or November, would last.

“I don't know if it would be 30 days or 60 days,” Stedman said. “With Gov. Murkowski we spent a considerable amount of time in the summer — I think we called it the Endless Summer — working on oil and gas.”