It’s hurry up and wait for state gasline corporation’s federal permitting schedule

Alaska Gasline Development Corporation President Keith Meyer gives a lunchtime update on the Alaska LNG project on Thursday, January 25, 2018, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

In mid-January, Alaska’s gasline corporation filed tens of thousands of pages of documents with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

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Now, the state is waiting for the commission to make a decision on if, and when, the state can get to work on its massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) export project.

Last week, the head of Alaska’s gasline corporation landed in Juneau for two days of meetings with lawmakers and updates on the Alaska LNG project. In between those meetings, Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) President Keith Meyer sat down to answer some questions on the federal permitting process.

In mid-January, the state corporation announced that it finished several months of work filing responses to questions FERC had on its application for the Alaska LNG project. Those questions were on everything from impacts on Alaska native culture to how the project could impact fish in the water bodies it crosses.

With those answers, the application has ballooned from 36,000 pages that the state corporation filed last year — to a current total just shy of 100,000 pages.

Now, Meyer and the state corporation are hoping that the federal commission will put out a schedule for completing that environmental review.

And that could happen, or the federal commission could just come back to the state with more questions.

The state corporation is on a tight deadline to get that permit. Meyer said he wants to start construction in the second half of 2019.  They’re trying to build a facility on the North Slope, an 800-mile long pipeline and a large plant in Southcentral Alaska and bring it online right around 2025.  Meyer calls that a “window” when global natural gas demand is projected to skyrocket.

And that federal schedule will be packed with public comment periods, outside review of the project, and there will be other federal agencies that want permits. Some analysts have said it could take years to get through that process.

Meyer said he thinks the federal commission can get through an environmental review, on what is likely the largest project in its history, in 11 months.

“We certainly think that’s possible. Where there’s a will there’s a way. So we hope there’s a will,” Meyer said.

That’s because Meyer said huge portions of the projects 800-miles of pipeline have already been studied.

“With this project, the corridor is an existing corridor that we are going down. It already has a pipeline in it. The oil pipeline has a road in it and then we deviate from the pipeline corridor and follow road and rail. So it’s all existing corridors,” Meyer said.

Additionally, the Army Corps of Engineers has been working with the state on another, smaller gas pipeline project.

“It’s basically the same route,” Meyer said.

Meyer said that means the environmental review work doesn’t need to be duplicated.

“What we really want FERC to do is take a look at the work done by the Army Corps and use that as the starting point rather than start everything from scratch,” Meyer said. 

As the state corporation moves forward with its federal regulatory process Meyer says it has also picked up negotiations with the gas producers on the North Slope.

BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil were originally partnered with the state in developing this project — but pulled out in 2016 citing a tough global market. The companies still control the natural gas on the North Slope, a federal export permit and some of the land needed for the project. The producers have met with Gov. Bill Walker in recent weeks and Meyer said they are motivated to get the pipeline into the ground so they can sell their gas.

“We don’t expect them to be a big investor in the project, but it’s material and we have support from all of them,” Meyer said. “They want to get the gas supply agreements done, as do we.”

There are some other potential snags. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough and City of Valdez are fighting to get the project re-routed.

But, Meyer says he doesn’t want to change the project now.

“That’s the horse we’ve picked and that’s the one we’re going to ride to the finish,” Meyer said.