EDITORIAL: Bullet line
The so-called "bullet" line from the Brooks Range foothills to Southcentral may or may not be the best way to replace our region's dwindling supply of affordable natural gas. But skeptics of the project have been using a dubious claim to discredit this potentially appealing option, which would follow the Parks Highway south from Fairbanks.
A bullet line will never get permission to follow the highway through Denali National Park, the skeptics claim. Environmentalists will never allow it.
Hmmm. That would be news to eight mainstream Alaska environmental groups. They said the following in a letter Jan. 30 to Enstar, the gas company that's considering a bullet line:
"The signers of this letter agree that bringing the gas pipeline along the Parks Highway through Denali seems to be the environmentally preferable alternative ..."
That routing, the groups wrote, "would seem to make the most sense from both an engineering and an environmental perspective as going around the park would necessitate construction in currently undeveloped lands."
The groups' letter said that "we reserve final judgment until completion of the environmental review" on this section of the project, which is only 6 or 7 miles -- but it sure doesn't sound like they are spoiling for a fight to block the route through Denali's highly developed eastern edge.
The letter was signed by the National Parks Conservation Association, Alaska Conservation Alliance, Denali Citizens Council, The Wilderness Society, Cook Inletkeeper, Alaska Center for the Environment, Wrangell Mountain Center and Alaska Wildlife Alliance.
The groups also note that the pipeline, if built, could supply clean-burning natural gas to park operations and businesses outside the park entrance. Another benefit, the groups note, is that Enstar has suggested the pipeline right of way could be used for a trail that would improve pedestrian safety around the busy park entrance.
In their letter, the groups say they are open to federal legislation that would speed up the permitting process for this part of a bullet line.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced a bill last week to do that. It would give the Park Service the power to issue the necessary permit without additional review by the secretary of the interior or the president.
Sen. Murkowski's bill doesn't short-circuit the usual environmental studies. But if those studies indicate the highway route is preferable, as expected, the necessary permit could be issued faster. The environmental groups don't have a position on the bill yet.
"It's not my desire to prejudge the outcome of which (gas line) project or route should be selected," Murkowski said in a press release. "I'm proposing this bill simply to remove uncertainty about the cost of constructing a pipeline along the Parks Highway."
Doing that will help produce more accurate cost comparisons among alternative pipeline proposals, as Sen. Murkowski noted.
The environmental groups' letter is not an outright endorsement of a bullet line. They note that "there are many unanswered questions about the routing and construction of the pipeline" outside of the section in Denali National Park.
But Sen. Murkowski's bill, and environmental groups' support for the general concept behind it, are a sign that a Parks Highway bullet line probably won't have to make an expensive detour around the park.
If the bullet line proposal has fatal flaws, dealing with Denali National Park doesn't appear to be one of them.
BOTTOM LINE: The need to cross Denali National Park is not going to kill chances for a gas pipeline that follows the Parks Highway to Southcentral.
Denali Park isn't the obstacle skeptics claim it is