Murkowski introduces bill to run pipeline in Denali Park

The Alaska pipeline near Fox, Alaska.

The Alaska pipeline near Fox, Alaska. (Photo courtesy James Brooks/Flickr Creative Commons)

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski is trying to make a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope more feasible.

Environmentalists are welcoming a stretch of pipeline through Denali National Park.

Senator Murkowski introduced a bill that would allow a seven mile stretch of pipeline to run through the National Park. For that to happen, Congress needs to pass a law granting approval.

She says it creates an equal playing field for proposed routes along the Richardson and Parks highways.

“Once the decision was made which way to go, we wanted there to be a clear path forward,” Murkowski says.

The pipeline would be buried through the park’s industrial corridor. Jim Stratford says the plan presents the best possible option. He’s the regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association.

“Bearing it along the highway through Denali National Park makes way more sense to us than going to the east and putting a new road or putting a new pipeline in what is essentially virgin wilderness right now,” Stratford says.

And there’s an added boost, says Larry Persily. He’s the federal coordinator for the Alaska Gas Pipeline. He says that in addition to making it easier for producers, this legislation could add to the health of the park’s economy, because it would allow park operators to access some of the cleaner-burning fuel.

“It’s been talked about for years. If there’s a pipeline nearby there are a lot of environmental and cost advantages to using natural gas for the hotels, for the vehicles, for the businesses, instead of continuing to burn diesel,” Persily says.

Of course, granting the go-ahead to a seven mile stretch of what would be a route that extends hundreds of miles is not the major barrier to construction.

That’s something Senator Murkowski readily concedes.

“This did nothing to resolve whether or not we even do it. When you’re looking at alternate routes, if one route is complicated because of the proposed path, if you can correct that ahead of time so that’s not an issue, it doesn’t take away the big issue, which of course, is the price tag,” Murkowski says.

And that price tag could total as much as sixty billion dollars.

This bill passed out of the Senate last Congress on a voice vote – meaning there wasn’t any opposition. But it didn’t receive a vote in the House.

So the process begins a new … with votes required in both chambers.