Inheriting Palin’s Pipeline Ambitions

Gov. Sarah Palin, center, awards a state license for development of her natural gas pipeline initiative to Canadian pipeline builder TransCanada last December. As Ms. Palin steps down, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell (to Ms. Palin’s right above), will inherit the program.

Gov. Sarah Palin, center, awards a state license for development of her natural gas pipeline initiative to Canadian pipeline builder TransCanada last December. As Ms. Palin steps down, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell (to Ms. Palin’s right above), will inherit the program.

In the wake of Sarah Palin’s surprise announcement to step down as Alaska governor, questions linger over her signature energy initiative: the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska’s North Slope to markets in Canada and the Lower 48.

Ms. Palin campaigned for governor with a pledge to completely rethink the state’s approach to the megaproject – instead of negotiating directly with the three major North Slope producers, Ms. Palin promised to essentially put the project out to bid.

As governor, she did just that, offering a suite of incentives (including $500 million in seed money) in exchange for certain commitments meant to protect the state’s interests. State lawmakers approved her Alaska Gasline Inducement Act in 2007, and last year awarded a state license under A.G.I.A. to Canadian pipeline builder TransCanada.

Exxon Mobil has since teamed up with TransCanada, and BP and ConocoPhillips are pursuing their own pipeline project separately.

But there’s no assurance that either line will ever get built.

The next legislative session “could decide whether A.G.I.A. actually becomes a pipeline project, or remains just a pipe dream,” wrote Beth Kerttula, a Democratic state representative in Alaska, in response to Ms. Palin’s resignation. “The governor has decided to walk away from us at the very moment Alaskans need her most.”

In resigning, Ms. Palin is handing off to the lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell, a lawyer who has worked as a state lawmaker, a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips, an official in the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas, and a partner at the law firm Patton Boggs. Mr. Parnell now pledges his allegiance to the state, and lawmakers are generally willing to see his stint as an oil industry lobbyist as an asset rather than a liability.

In an interview, Mr. Parnell stressed his commitment to “responsible resource development” and promised to fight federal decisions that get in the way of it.

Mr. Parnell is also promising to stick with A.G.I.A., and to follow the hard line Ms. Palin has taken with the major producers on gas production taxes and other fiscal issues.

In the end, Mr. Parnell’s approach to Big Oil may differ from Ms. Palin’s more in style than substance. “What you won’t get from Sean,” predicted Gene Therriault, a Republican state senator, “is the comments like, ‘Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out.’ ”

Stefan Milkowski
The New York Times

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