This weekend I had the opportunity to participate in the annual Kodiak Crab Festival, which featured a very unique gubernatorial debate last Friday. The Kodiak Debate is important because of its primary focus on Alaska's second largest employer, the seafood industry. The debate preparation alone gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in the myriad of issues impacting this heritage industry that makes vast contributions to Alaska's economy.
Once the debate got underway, the candidates addressed the challenges facing the industry, such as high energy costs and state funding for seafood marketing and other fisheries programs. Inevitably this led to the topic of oil and gas and the continued decline of oil throughput in the pipeline, now operating at two-thirds empty, which funds 90 percent of our state government. Alaska's economy is on course for a freefall if we do not get more oil in the pipeline and build a large scale gas line now.
During the question-and-answer segment of the debate in Kodiak, I had the opportunity to ask Governor Parnell specifically why he recently decided to offer the North Slope leaseholders -- BP, Conoco Phillips and Exxon -- a $20-billion incentive to take our gas, jobs and economic opportunities into Canada. It is no secret that I have been a strong critic of Governor Parnell's dogged insistence on pursuing a faltering Canadian gasline project, and this was not the first time I had taken him to task in a public setting over his willingness to put the future of his political career over Alaska's future.
Parnell danced around the question uncomfortably before finally stumbling to the conclusion that had he not made that decision, it would have amounted to a tax increase on Exxon, BP and Conoco. What? Clearly, the Governor of Alaska could not be on stage next to me making this argument. So I asked again and still the same vague, nonsensical response.
At a recent debate with Parnell at the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, I had asked who requested this $20-billion subsidy. No one from the industry was on record asking for this concession. Did Parnell unilaterally decide to give $20 billion in incentives to try to salvage a highly anticipated failed open season in a desperate attempt to secure his election as governor? Parnell has not disclosed who asked for the $20-billion giveaway. The proposed pipeline's open season ends on July 31, yet he plans to seal the results until well past November 4th. The people of Alaska have paid for half the cost of this open season -- over $100 million -- and deserve to know what is being done with the resources that we collectively own. Something's fishy and Alaskans should be outraged.
Parnell was quick to forget this exchange, releasing a hollow, self-proclaimed statement of victory via his campaign website. Rather than take his word for it, I would encourage all interested parties to download the full debate at www.kmxt.org and decide for yourself who the victor was. You will note that when Parnell boasts of his accomplishments and priorities, he always speaks of the various social programs that he has championed. What he fails to explain is that without an economy, without oil and gas projects putting revenue into the state coffers, these programs will not have a funding source in the coming years. When the state has to slash its budget by 90 percent, there will be no way to pay for these programs, much less our schools, public safety, roads, harbors, tourism and seafood marketing and essential government services.
Parnell dodges discussion of the elephant in the room: Alaska's uncertain economic future. Instead we race head-on into a failed open season which will lead to another failed open season in another two years and on and on we go. At that point we will be paying ninety cents of every dollar Exxon and TransCanada spend while the window of our last opportunity to commercialize our gas on the world market via the All-Alaska Gasline LNG project closes.
Bill Walker is a lifelong Alaskan and Republican gubernatorial primary candidate. He served as mayor of Valdez at the age of 27 before entering the private sector as a successful business owner (construction, tourism, real estate, law). He has decades of experience in Alaska's oil and gas, tourism and local government and is a longtime advocate for the development of Alaska's natural resources.
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