America’s energy boom is about to take another huge leap forward as the State of Alaska is on the verge of approving the $50 billion All-Alaskan Gas Pipeline (AAGP). The massive project will transport “stranded” North Slope natural gas south down the Kenai Peninsula to a new port built to export Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to Asian markets.
The project expects to gain the State Legislature’s approval in 60 days, finish planning, and begin six years of construction in 2018. Despite drilling on U.S. federal land shrinking every year since 2008, individual states are aggressively partnering with the private sector to build intra-state energy projects that do not cross any foreign borders and are thus exempt from the type of presidential approval requirements that stopped the Keystone XL Pipeline.
AAGP will have spectacularly positive economic impacts on Alaskan citizens and cut America’s trade deficit by up to $24 billion a year.
The All-Alaska Gas Pipeline is being championed by Republican Governor Sean Parnell, who in 2010 ran and won on the Tea Party-supported “Cut-Cap-and-Balance Pledge.” This has forced the high-spending Alaska Legislature to face the reality that oil production from the North Slope is in decline and has fallen by a third in the last six years. Parnell defeated the Democrats’ and liberals’ demands to raise corporate taxation of oil companies, then legislated higher energy incentives to spur the AAGP.
There is at least 35.4 trillion cubic feet of producible natural gas in the four existing North Slope oil fields at Prudhoe Bay, Point Thomson, Lisburne, and Kuparak. Despite being an energy state, Alaska has a lack of gas pipelines that forces local residents of Fairbanks to pay $24 per thousand cubic feet (mcf) of gas. However, because the extensive infrastructure has already been built and paid for with 35 years of revenues from oil production on the North Slope, the U.S. Energy Information Administration conservatively estimated these fields could supply up to four billion cubic feet of natural gas per day at an average cost of $1.12 mcf for a minimum period of at least 24 years.
The massive AAGP project will cost eight times as much as the long-delayed Keystone XL Pipeline. Construction will take six years to wind down from the North Slope south through the Kenai Peninsula while simultaneously building roads, digging the harbor, and erecting the liquefaction facilities necessary to develop the North Slope gas. A consortium of Trans-Canada, Exxon Mobil, and the State of Alaska are funding the project with equity. As the plan stands now, the state will take a 20-25% stake in the venture for $12.5 billion. TransCanada will contribute half, and Exxon a quarter.
It was originally proposed in the 1970s that the Canadian Arctic Gas Pipeline would carry natural gas from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, across the Canadian Yukon to the Mackenzie Delta, south through to Alberta and then to the U.S. Midwest. Decades of political opposition from environmentalists killed the project.
Hydraulic fracking on private land has increased U.S. domestic oil production by 60% and natural gas production by 30%, while approvals of drilling permits on federal land have declined every year since 2008. This tsunami of American energy production has driven down the average price of natural gas from $15 mcf in 2000 to under $4 mcf last year, making the cost of exporting Alaskan gas to the lower 48 states uncompetitive.
However, with natural gas currently selling for over $10 mcf in Europe, $12 mcf in China, and $17 mcf in Japan, Alaskan natural gas can be produced, piped, converted to liquid natural gas (LNG), and shipped to Asian ports at a gross cost of $4.72 mcf, plus the cost of building the pipeline. I estimate Asian buyers are willing to sign long-term contracts at $10 mcf for all the natural gas that can be produced in Alaska and shipped as LNG.
As the third smallest state by population in the U.S. with a population of only 730,000, Alaska will see a spectacular economic windfall in the green-lighting of AAGP. According to the Alaska Department of Labor Workforce Development, AAGP will take six years to build, create over 6,500 construction jobs, and economically stimulate over 50,000 permanent jobs. When operational, the AAGP will lift the state’s gross-domestic-product (GDP) by 25% and wipe out unemployment. New state and local tax revenues will rise from $3 billion in Year 1, to $5 billion in Year 5, to $24 billion by Year 30.
Furthermore, the State of Alaska deposits half of its oil and gas tax revenue into the Alaska Permanent Fund (APF) for distribution to its 507,000 qualified permanent citizens. The 2013 dividend was $900, down from $2,069 in 2008. On completion, AAGP’s initial increase to the dividend is $275, which scales up to $2,200 a year.
The United States will overtake Russia and Saudi Arabia this year as the world’s largest producer of oil and gas combined. Energy is America’s fastest growing industry, and jobs in the sector have doubled since 2007. Formerly impoverished North Dakota, which sits on the huge Bakken oil and gas field, now boasts a $5 billion budget surplus and a 3% unemployment rate. Even the “Peoples’ Republic of California” on September 20, 2013 passed “SB-4 Oil and Gas: Well Stimulation,” an environmentally friendly term for green-lighting fracking. The common factor energizing America’s energy boom is the joint cooperation between states and the private sector.
The author is the co-host of the Agenda 21 Radio Show and will be teaching microeconomics at University of California, Irvine this spring. He welcomes feedback and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.