Alaska lawmakers hold private meetings on gas project, sign confidentiality agreements

Energy Associated Press

Alaska lawmakers, legislative staff and gas-line consultants attended private meetings and signed confidentiality agreements about the Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project.

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The private meetings were held Friday and lasted more than two hours, the Alaska Dispatch News reported (http://goo.gl/srGCJn).

The Anchorage meetings of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee also included a short public update from the administration outlining key steps Gov.-elect Bill Walker and the Legislature will be expected to take to keep the project on track next year.

The meetings came just three days before Walker will be sworn into office. Outgoing Gov. Sean Parnell had launched the Alaska LNG project.

The project to build a pipeline for liquid natural gas could cost more than $65 billion and includes partnerships between the state, pipeline builder TransCanada and oil giants ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP. Selling the state's reserves of natural gas is considered crucial for an oil-dependent state facing towering deficits.

In total, 40 people signed the confidentiality agreements, including 20 of the state's 60 lawmakers. The confidential discussions included details about the state's bargaining position relative to other partners in the project or potential gas buyers, according to those who attended the meeting.

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"I know there's a lot of angst around this notion of confidentiality, but this really is designed to protect the interests of Alaskans and prevent our counterparties from knowing too much about our strategies and what the real motivations are behind some of the positions we take, and some of the decisions we ultimately make," Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash said.

Sen. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River and chair of the committee, said she had requested that the administration provide as much public information as possible about the project.

"I told them I want things I can share with my constituents," Fairclough said. "I want a clear, bright line between what's confidential and what's not and to label them very specifically."

Fairclough said some confidentiality is important. For example, the state should not say which gas buyer it plans to negotiate with. If it did, competitors could immediately try to undercut the state, she said.

During the public portion of the meeting, Balash said the state will have to make key decisions so the project can move to the next phase in early 2016, when the partners will decide to spend about $2 billion on detailed engineering and design studies, employing up to 1,500 in a process expected to be completed about 2018.

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Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, http://www.adn.com