Alaska Natural Gas Line Ready to Take Off, Just As Soon As Politicians Get Things Sorted

Michael Giberson

Word is, the Alaska natural gas pipeline is just about ready to get started. The thing is, it has been just about ready for 30 years. In the Energy Tribune, Alaska-born Ron Oligney diagnoses the problems that have kept progress on the Alaskan gas line at bay. Posturing by populist politicians plays a big role, but Oligney’s analysis is deeper and richer.

The common theme for these governors … was that they were “seeking the highest good for all Alaskans.” The current governor is better than any of her predecessors … in that she has an almost unbelievable approval rating of 90 percent. She has charmed the masses, which in Alaska means a few hundred thousand people. The problem is that Alaskans and their politicians feel quite certain that they are just one BP-Conoco news release, one governor, one special session away from getting The Gas Line. A common statement in Alaska is, “Have you heard the news? The Gas Line is getting ready to take off.” And so it has been. For 30 years.

The principle of “highest good” is a lopsided concept in a state where there is very little private ownership of land or minerals. Just as in a foreign country, the game is one of inducing investment from those with the money (oil companies) and then changing the rules as necessary to extract the maximum benefit for the locals. Stirring up the mob against the evil outsiders (oil companies) keeps the populist in power. In foreign countries, the end game is nationalization, sometimes once per generation. In Alaska, taxes are the proxy. (Note: the situation in Texas and Oklahoma is much more intrinsically stable because of private land ownership – many legislators and some of the voting public are also mineral owners.)