Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:
Nov. 19, 2013
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Mayor pushes to make Interior compatible with military's role
As Alaskans have seen during recent years, keeping Alaska's military bases competitive with others around the nation is an ongoing challenge. The local bases have some advantages, but they also have some shortcomings and limitations.
With that in mind, Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins has been pushing several policy changes and initiatives that could help secure the future of existing military bases and create new opportunities around them. Whether all these ideas gain support from the public and other officials remains to be seen, but his efforts are worth some consideration.
That's in part because the military plays such an enormous role in our economy. Some estimates credit it with close to 40 percent of all economic activity in the area. A fifth of the area's population is tied to the bases.
A person can get a sense of this simply by watching the traffic coming and going from Fort Wainwright's main gate, near Airport Way and the Steese Highway. It's one of the busiest crossroads in town, a tangible sign of all that economic activity.
A downturn in that activity would hit hard at many businesses across Fairbanks, so the mayor's initiative is important. His effort covers a broad range of issues.
For example, the mayor ramped up the efforts this past summer to implement recommendations of an earlier land-use study. The study said the borough should do more to guide development on land surrounding the military bases that could constrain the utility of those bases. The borough held several workshops on the ideas this past summer and fall.
Hopkins also presented a list of other ideas to the Legislature's Joint Armed Services Committee in late September. The options offered to the Legislature included actions such as subsidizing the military's coal purchases, financing energy infrastructure at the bases, developing roads in training areas and offering tax-exempt status to businesses associated with the military. Hopkins cited the businesses that support unmanned aircraft system development as one promising example.
These ideas should be considered during the coming legislative session. They aren't without cost to the state and borough, but the benefits could be great if they helped keep our military bases vibrant and expanded the activities associated with them.
Nov. 17, 2013
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: A big gas line remains possible
With so much focus on the local natural gas trucking project, we haven't heard much about a big natural gas line lately. The project's success is far from certain, but several recent developments seem to bode well for it.
Nevertheless, the state still must address the need to provide a firm tax rate on the gas. Until that's done, the gas will remain less marketable.
Alaska's challenge has always been that potential customers will go elsewhere if they can find cheaper, more reliable natural gas. The "cheaper" part is the greatest obstacle. Pipeline construction could cost up to $65 billion. You have to be awfully reliable to offset that price tag, but the state should make an effort.
Doing so appears worthwhile. Consider some of the latest news, news that indicates the private sector still views this as a potentially viable project.
The three major North Slope oil companies and the pipeline company TransCanada have agreed upon the best location of any liquefied natural gas export terminal: Nikiski, on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage.
This announcement, made Oct. 7, was a surprise to many Alaskans and a disappointment to community leaders and business owners in Valdez, site of the trans-Alaska pipeline terminal. The best clue to the reason for Nikiski's selection seemed to come from a statement attributed to Steve Butt, senior project manager for Exxon Mobil: "The Nikiski site also results in a pipeline route that provides an access opportunity to North Slope gas by the major population centers in Fairbanks, the Mat-Su valley, Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula." Of course, a line to Valdez could do the same thing, but only with expensive spur lines.
Still, one must wonder how the companies will get the big pipe through, under or around Cook Inlet. Wouldn't that be far more expensive than building a line to Valdez? It appears that the combination of the proximity to Alaska's cities and the potential savings in tanker costs, resulting from a location closer to Asian markets, might be enough to tip the balance.
The other news that bodes well for the big line comes from far to the north, at the Point Thomson gas field east of Prudhoe Bay. Exxon Mobil is working away on the field and last week flew in a group of legislators to view the progress.
Point Thomson initially will produce liquids that will be pumped through a pipeline to Prudhoe Bay. Exxon Mobil plans to start production in May 2016.
Initial production will only be 10,000 barrels per day, though. The big prize at Point Thomson is the natural gas. It seems unlikely that Exxon Mobil would have stuck out a long fight with the state and then invested billions in the field development if it didn't have its eye on selling that gas.
It won't sell it, though, if it can't find a buyer. Buyers want cheap, reliable gas. Alaska's government can't change the cost of an 800-plus-mile pipeline by much, but it can make itself more reliable by committing to the most stable tax regime possible.