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The multibillion-dollar natural gas project proposed for Alaska looks similar to the oil pipeline built almost 40 years ago: Extract a hydrocarbon from the North Slope and send it through an 800-mile pipeline to a year-round port, then pour it into ships to take the product to market.

But comparing the two commodities is like comparing baseball and slow-pitch softball. Oil and LNG are in many ways related, but their markets are separated by essential differences in how they’re played.

Oil is a global commodity trading rapidly, frequently and at enormous volumes among a vast array of producers, consumers, shippers and traders that have shaped the business for more than 150 years ago. Liquefied natural gas is still largely a regional industry, just 50 years old.

Why is oil a global commodity, while LNG is not?

Alaska LNG project sponsors filed Sept. 5 with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to begin the lengthy environmental and safety review required for federal authorization to build and operate the proposed $45 billion to $65 billion project that includes a pipeline across Alaska and a liquefied natural gas plant at Nikiski.

The application to FERC asks the commission to accept the project for what is known as the “pre-filing” process. The companies’ proposed timeline in the pre-file shows they would submit a full application in September 2016. FERC will set its timeline for reviewing the project, though the companies propose the commission issue the draft environmental impact statement in October 2017 and the final EIS in March 2018.

During the months-long pre-filing period, project sponsors work with FERC staff and a third-party contractor to lay the groundwork for the environmental impact statement that FERC will prepare on behalf of itself and other federal agencies with oversight of the project.

Alaska LNG project sponsors filed July 18 for federal permission to export liquefied natural gas for 30 years from a $45 billion to $65 billion development that includes a pipeline across Alaska and an LNG plant at Nikiski.

In an application to the Department of Energy, Alaska LNG, a partnership of ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP, asked that the export authorization’s 30-year clock begin with the date of the LNG plant’s first shipment or 12 years from the date permission is granted, whichever comes earlier.

The 212-page filing seeks permission to export up to 20 million metric tons a year of LNG, the equivalent of about 2.5 billion cubic feet a day of natural gas.

Guide to Alaska gas projects
and glossary of gas terms

blue gas flame

Hundreds of millions of state dollars have been allocated to a variety of projects that could move North Slope natural gas to market. These include an ambitious North Slope producer-led effort that could pipe massive amounts of gas to an LNG export plant, a small-volume state-sponsored pipeline project and an even smaller-scale proposal to truck LNG to Fairbanks, Interior Alaska’s largest community.

White Papers

Construction of the multibillion-dollar Alaska LNG project would tap a bounty of public resources – crossing rivers, disturbing soils and vegetation at least temporarily, creating emissions that would alter air quality, encountering threatened and endangered species.

The project’s sponsors cannot use the public’s water, land and other resources without permission, and a public process finding that such uses would be acceptable, findings that likely would come with strings attached.

The sponsors know the task ahead and have been gathering the environmental data regulators would want to see. We provide a brief guide to the federal agencies handling the major authorizations Alaska LNG would need.


Any project as large and complex as a multibillion-dollar natural gas project from Alaska's North Slope will require numerous federal, state and local permits. Agencies have been working with developers on National Environmental Policy Act and permitting efforts for an Alaska gas line project.

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