Op-Ed: Advancing Alaska’s LNG Project

I was reminded recently, while viewing a short film produced by the Consumer Energy Alliance, of the marvel that is our Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). I didn’t marvel at the engineering; TAPS has delivered oil safely through some of the most challenging terrain and hostile conditions on earth. Nor did I reflect on its importance to our national energy security; Alaska still provides a vital source of oil to the West Coast where alternatives are limited by the lack of infrastructure from the mid-continent. I was reminded that what is so marvelous about TAPS is the people who were involved in its design, permitting and construction, and the Alaskans who ensure its safe operations today. A pipeline like TAPS isn’t simply steel, pressure dynamics or a logistics chain – it is a monument to cooperation and the collective spirit that reflects the best of Alaska.

Today, Alaska is confronted with recent events in the offshore oil sector, our state and nation’s fiscal condition, and the impacts of a changing climate. This unsettling landscape is not unlike the situation leaders faced prior to the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay. That discovery started a series of policies that for all the contentiousness and in hindsight, maybe mistakes, brought Alaska together and built the state we love today. While the debates were often acrimonious – TAPS was authorized with a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Spiro Agnew - and the policies complex, today we remember the collaboration not the contention.

As the legislature convenes for a special session to consider how to maintain momentum on the Alaska LNG project, I encourage all Alaskans to reflect on the history of TAPS. We should remember the spirit that the Native people brought to the table; it was as much their commitment and efforts supporting the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act as it was the TAPS authorization that really enabled construction. And always, that it was a broad cross section of Alaskans – democrat and republican, labor and business - that came together to fight for the project.

To a person, I know every legislator and our governor want to do everything they can to advance an Alaska LNG project. I know this because I have heard from them as I have worked with President Obama’s Administration to ensure the federal processes are working for the project. Together with Senator Sullivan and Congressman Young here in Washington, I have leveraged my dual roles as the Chair of the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies to help move the project forward. In July we won a significant victory as the U.S. Department of Energy granted the necessary license for the project to export LNG to non-Free Trade Agreement Countries. Additionally, we have ensured federal agencies are prepared and working as the project progresses through the Pre-FEED process. The alignment we have built at the federal level for the Alaska LNG project is critical and as we saw at the roundtable of senior federal officials I convened in Anchorage this spring, this project is a national priority.

Taking advantage of that momentum will take the support of all Alaskans – for both the Governor and the Legislature as they deliberate and discuss the policies they must consider. From the board rooms of corporations involved in the project or competing with Alaska to the potential buyers of the gas, the eyes of the world are truly on Alaska this October. We must be conscious that how we as Alaskans, as leaders and as individuals talk about each other and the project matter. We should remember that the policy issues may certainly be challenging and worthy of deep deliberation, but that we all share in the outcome.