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The Alaska Senate approved Gov. Sean Parnell's (R) proposal to extract, develop and transport natural gas from the state's North Slope region, potentially the biggest infrastructure project in state history. The vote on SB 138 came mostly along party lines, with four Democrats and one Republican in opposition. Three Democrats joined 12 Republicans in support of the measure. The project, which is estimated to cost as much as $65 billion, has three components: a North Slope treatment plant, a large-diameter 800-mile pipeline and a natural gas liquefaction plant and export facility that would be built in Nikiski. The proposal would make the state a partner with the North Slope's major oil producers — BP, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips — and pipeline company TransCanada Corp. Alaska would also be a major investor in the project with a direct 25 percent share, though it could conceivably give all or part of that share to TransCanada in lieu of coming up with the funds to pay for it. That drew sharp criticism from opponents like Senate Minority Leader Hollis French (D), who said the state is giving up too much in the deal. Under an agreement already signed with TransCanada, the state could surrender its 25 percent share of the pipeline, with an option to then then buy back only 40 percent of that portion. "I wonder if most Alaskans know they are only getting 40 percent of a quarter of this pipeline," he said. Critics also argued that for all the talk of the building infrastructure, the bill doesn't actually require a pipeline to be built. "This isn't a project, this is another study," said Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D). "This project requires us to surrender our sovereignty for a handful of beans," said French, who voted against the bill. But the bill's supporters countered that the lack of a requirement to build the pipeline is really a positive because it doesn't commit the state to following through on a bad deal. It does, however, allow the project to go forward to see if it can be profitable. Parnell praised the vote, saying "Our legislation paves the way for Alaskans to become owners in the project and ensures an open, public process going forward." The bill is now in the House. (ALASKA DISPATCH, ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS, NATURAL GAS INTELLIGENCE)
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