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Parnell: Gas line should help coastal communities

Gov. Sean Parnell talks about Southeast issues during the Southeast Conference's Mid-Session Summit Jan. 12, 2014. He wants the gas line's benefits to be shared with coastal communities. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Gov. Sean Parnell talks about Southeast issues during the Southeast Conference’s Mid-Session Summit Jan. 12, 2014. He wants the gas line’s benefits to be shared with coastal communities. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Gov. Sean Parnell wants to look for ways to get natural gas to Alaska’s coastal communities. He says a gas line and LNG plant could benefit more than Railbelt communities.

Parnell says all of Alaska will benefit from the pipeline, through jobs and increased state revenues.

But he also wants to figure out a way to get gas, or a byproduct, to Southeast cities, Yukon River villages and other towns near the water.

“The resource of that gas can be available to coastal communities, because it’s coming to tidewater. So, large volumes of gas to tidewater at Nikiski can move to other coastal communities,” he says.

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Parnell told a Wednesday meeting of the Southeast Conference, a regional economic advocacy group, that he has plans to study how that could work.

“I am creating through an administrative order, a roundtable or commission of people with coastal community experience and leadership to bring these issues to the fore of the gas line negotiations across the next 18 months,” he says.

He says he was interested in exploring propane, a byproduct of liquefying natural gas, as fuel that could be transported by barge or ship.

It’s not an unusual idea.

Jack Mussallem is mayor of Prince Rupert, a coastal British Columbia city with an expanding port facility.

“I have seen proposals where they actually float an LNG facility in and it’s contained on three to four 1,000-foot-long barges,” Mussallem says.

He says Ketchikan’s shipyard might bid on maintenance and repair of such vessels.

Doug Ward, who manages that facility for Vigor Alaska, says he’s also looked into the idea.

“In Norway, there’s a whole industry around small and midsize LNG projects. They have cryogenic barges or small LNG freighters all within the capacity we here in Southeast to build, operate or maintain,” Ward says.

A number of coastal communities are served by businesses that deliver propane for cooking and sometimes heating. But it’s a smaller amount than Parnell proposes.

A company called Alaska Intrastate Gas tried for more than a dozen years to develop a larger propane distribution system using Canadian gas. Efforts in Southeast never panned out.

But the governor remains optimistic.

“My vision for Alaska is that our river communities and the coastal communities that rely on fuel oil too would not have tanks of fuel oil to have to fill but would have propane tanks in the decades to come,” Parnell says.

He says gas could also be trucked to rural communities along the Interior road system. A similar plan is already being developed for Fairbanks.

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