Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Sen. Murkowski pushes year-round Fairbanks worker training center

FAIRBANKS — Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked federal officials this week to consider building a year-round training center in Fairbanks to prepare workers for a natural gas pipeline.

Murkowski, writing Tuesday to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, said the state’s skilled labor force is aging. She estimated Alaska must see 1,000 new construction workers trained annually to keep up, “much less prepare for the construction of the largest private-sector construction project in the nation’s history.”

Major energy firms are spending the summer soliciting potential customers in hope of building a natural gas pipeline through Canada, and the state government is drafting business plans for a smaller, in-state alternative.

Murkowski told Chu, in asking him to back federal funding for the pipeline, that Congress in 2004 sent major federal aid north, and indicated more was available, to help the state train welders, pipefitters, steamfitters and other skilled workers as needed for a huge North American pipeline.

Trade unions, the state, the U.S. Department of Labor and others teamed in 2008 to build a training center in South Fairbanks. That center lacks enough heated space for much of the year-round training organizers envisioned, Murkowksi said.

“There is now a desperate need for the construction of an all-weather pipeline training facility building so the training of these workers can advance steadily year-round,” Murkowski wrote, citing a “reasonable expectation” that a multibillion-dollar pipeline could reach key financing, permitting or construction milestones in the next few years. She said workers skilled in pipeline trades are needed for energy projects regardless of a pipeline project’s timing and said increased domestic natural gas supplies would address national concern about carbon emissions.

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Source: By Christopher Eshleman. Published June 24, 2010