In Asia, Walker’s gasline team gets audience but no deals

Gov. Bill Walker and several of his energy advisers returned this week from a journey to Singapore and South Korea.

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Alaska Gasline Development Corporation President Keith Meyer, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack discuss meetings with potential buyers of Alaska’s LNG during a press conference on Friday Sept. 30, 2016 in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney, Alaska's Energy Desk - Juneau)
Alaska Gasline Development Corporation President Keith Meyer, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack discuss meetings with potential buyers of Alaska’s LNG during a press conference on Friday Sept. 30, 2016 in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Juneau)

The trip comes as the state’s lead partners, ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips, are backing out of the Alaska LNG megaproject the state is preparing to take over.

Walker says over the last 10 days, his team had 20 meetings with ambassadors from Japan, Qatar, Singapore and others.

They’re working to raise awareness and market the $45 billion to $65 billion Alaska LNG project.

And, while they didn’t return with any firm commitments to buy into the project, Alaska Gasline Development Corp. President Keith Meyer said the team made progress.

“I would say we moved the ball quite a bit. Now we didn’t sign MOUs (memorandums of agreement) and we’re a little ways from that. What we’re doing now is raising awareness. Also correcting, as the governor indicated, correcting some misperceptions out there that the project had stopped. There were some bad headlines preceded us,” Meyer said.

As the state seeks buyers for North Slope natural gas, it must also continue with the regulatory process of permitting the massive project. And it’s unclear exactly how much that’s going to cost the state.

Meyer said the team is working on budget scenarios for different levels of activity, including further engineering work. Though, he says that work takes a lower priority to getting permits and finding funding for the project.

Walker said he confirmed in several meetings that it’s still possible to complete the project by 2025.

Walker and Meyer are aiming to get firm commitments and contracts from buyers within a year.

It’s unclear if the state will move into the next phase of the pipeline, which would require financing an estimated $2 billion in final engineering and design plans.

The state’s financial resources are strained with multibillion-dollar deficits and it’s unknown if the legislature would continue appropriating funds for the project.

But Walker said he thinks the legislature is just as focused on selling the state’s gas as his administration.

“Given our financial situation, some have said, ‘Can we really afford to do this?’” he said. “And I guess, I’d say, ‘Can we really afford not to do this?’”

Walker plans to be in Asia again in November to speak in Tokyo.

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Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk , she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.