Fairbanks Daily News Miner: Sen. Murkowski confident of Asian gas market

FAIRBANKS — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is confident there’s a market for Alaska’s natural gas in Asia after a recent trip to Japan and Taiwan.

During a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday, Murkowski reported that Japanese officials and representatives from a number of Japanese utilities were particularly interested in adding Alaska’s natural gas to their energy portfolios.

“I got the impression that if Alaska was in a position to offer up contracts up today that the Japanese would be very interested in participating,” she said.

Asia’s markets have been a potential target for Alaska exports in recent years. That target would be the key driver behind the construction of a proposed large-diameter pipeline from North Slope to tidewater. While prices have fallen in the Lower 48, prices for natural gas in Asia remain high.

Those high prices have drawn interest in many countries with large reserves of natural gas, and Murkowski acknowledged that Alaska won’t be the fastest to respond.

“There was a lot of inquiry about a natural gas pipeline and the timing of that,” she said. “We can’t give any guarantees or timelines on that at this time. ... What I can report is there’s very, very keen interest in gaining access to Alaska’s natural gas.”

While Alaska might be slow to the market, it also carries several advantages over other countries, she said.

“There’s a lot of opportunities and comparative advantages that Alaska has with other areas,” she said. “Most notably is the large resource base, but we also have the benefit of a 30-year relationship. We’ve also got political stability. Japan is quite concerned that so much of their LNG is coming to them from areas that are less than stable.”

In addition to the hurdles in building a natural gas pipeline, there’s also the issue of whether the federal government will allow additional natural gas exports. Many politicians and utilities are opposed to granting additional export licenses, Murkowski said. She said she believes it’s an issue that could be resolved in the coming months.

“There’s going to be a lot of good old genuine debate about the pros and cons of increased export,” she said.