To most people, the phrase “bullet line” no doubt conveys an image of fast Japanese trains; but in Alaska, it means a small diameter gas pipeline running the 730 miles across the wilderness from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to the state’s population centers. For nearly half a century, the heating and power requirements of South-central Alaska (where Anchorage and adjacent communities are located) have been met by gas produced in nearby Cook Inlet. But the aging fields in the Inlet, which have been producing since the 1950s, are nearing exhaustion, and policymakers are concerned about how that source will be replaced to provide heat for the homes of the nearly half million population of the region. For unrelated reasons, the home heating oil that has been used in the state’s second largest city, Fairbanks, is also becoming dramatically scarcer.
Although there are vast quantities of gas available on the North Slope, currently there is no way to move that gas other than by truck. For decades this so-called “stranded gas” has been the focus of projects to build a large gas pipeline, paralleling the existing oil pipeline, that could move the gas to tidewater for export. Although efforts continue to construct such a giant pipeline, it will clearly be many more years before gas from such a line could be made available to Alaska residents. Thus has arisen the concept of the “All – Alaska pipeline,” or bullet line. In 2010 the state legislature provided initial funding through the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. AHFC then established as a subsidiary the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, which has moved forward by obtaining hundreds of miles of right-of-way, seeing to the completion in December, 2012 of an Environmental Impact Statement, and devising initial plans for a 500 million cubic feet per day gas line. The plan requires several hundred millions of dollars of state money to move forward into the design phase, but may ultimately seek both private equity and debt financing to carry the estimated $7.7 billion capital cost. Current plans call for the line to be completed by 2019. Whether this project will prove viable will depend in part on funding from the current legislative session that just got underway in Juneau. Lawmakers must weigh the costs of this project, in a time of declining state revenues, against the possible alternative sources of energy to prevent their constituents from freezing in the dark. More information about the in-state pipeline can be found at the website of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation.