NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · ALASKA · Freedom of Information · May 19, 2006
Governor unveils pipeline deal after state senator sues
May 19, 2006 · Alaska’s governor unveiled information about the state’s multi-billion dollar deal for a new natural gas pipeline last week in compliance with a court order in a state lawmaker’s open records lawsuit.
Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks of Juneau ordered Gov. Frank Murkowski to release details of the natural gas pipeline contract his office says it negotiated with BP, Conoco-Phillips and ExxonMobil Corp. — the state’s three biggest oil companies. The governor’s office provided the 320-page agreement, which will not be finalized until it wins approval from the state Legislature, said Mark Morones, a spokesman for the state Department of Law.
“It has been posted [on the Internet] and widely spread to the Legislature and the public,” he said.
The proposed pipeline would carry natural gas 3,000 miles from Alaska’s North Slope to the lower 48 states. Murkowski began negotiating the deal two years ago and publicly announced an agreement in February. In a statement, he announced that the deal could bring as much as $129 billion in revenue to the state and, conservatively, as little as $26 billion.
State Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat, sued under the state’s open records law when he noticed that a related oil tax measure was before the Legislature and would be tied to the pipeline contract.
“We examined the oil tax but couldn’t see the contract to which it was linked,” he said. “With two weeks left in the session, I had no choice but to go to court.”
Judge Weeks ordered the contract’s release May 5, ruling that it is a public record.
“The proposed oil tax changes and gasline contract are so dependent on each other that interpreting [the state statute] to keep the contract secret is contrary to the purpose” of the law, Weeks wrote. “It is hard to see how the legislature can be cognizant of the risks and ramifications of the oil tax without seeing the contract that it will affect. . . . The public as well as the legislature has a right to know of the implications of the proposed contract on the oil and gas revenues of the State[.]”
French said that the public interest in the matter is great. “This is the No. 1 topic on the political landscape. This is an oil-driven state, a resource-driven state,” he said, noting that Alaska’s pipeline was built in the 1970s and the state’s citizens are “ready for another big boon.”
The contract can be executed only if approved by the Legislature, which began a special session May 10 to discuss the matter and a related oil tax measure. The oil tax may affect the deal and must be approved by both houses of the Legislature and integrated into the contract before it can be approved, Morones said.
The governor also is conducting a public review process, including statewide meetings to get public input before the Legislature’s vote, Morones said.
(French v. Murkowski, Requester’s counsel: Hollis French, Anchorage) — CZ