May 2020, Vol. 247, No. 5

Pipeline Profile

Keeping Abreast of Alaska’s LNG Aspirations

As a longtime observer of the Alaska energy scene, Larry Persily has the rare perspective of someone who has viewed his subject matter as a journalist, educator and as public policy worker at the federal, state and municipal levels, including federal coordinator for the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects, 2010-2015.

Here, Persily shares thoughts on how he began his informal newsletter, Alaska LNG Project Updates, the future of Alaska liquefied natural gas (LNG) Project and what he actually likes about Washington, D.C.


P&GJ: Tell our readers a little bit about your newsletter, Alaska LNG Project Updates, and what motivated you to produce it?

Persily: I started writing the summaries for the public when I went to work in 2010 as the federal official responsible for coordinating the agencies that would review, authorize and regulate the proposed project. 

It seemed to me the companies behind the Alaska North Slope gas project knew what was going on and what was involved, but not everyone at the agencies knew what other offices were doing all the time or what was happening in the global gas market, particularly North America. 

Certainly, the general public in Alaska and elsewhere had a strong interest but lacked access to much of the information. So, being a journalist by training, I started writing. Nothing confidential or proprietary, just putting public information into easily readable summaries. Included with the regulatory and project development updates were reports on other gas projects around the world – the competition, if you will. 

After the federal office closed in 2015, I continued following the Alaska project and writing and sharing the updates because I enjoyed it and thought people wanted to know what was going on. I do not charge for the updates – never have. I continued them while working for municipal government in Alaska, while working as a state legislative aide, and while I am teaching journalism this year at the University of Alaska Anchorage.


P&GJ: Who receives your newsletter? How often does it come out?

Persily: I’m not sure I’d call it a “newsletter” in any formal sense. It’s really just an email list I have compiled over the years. At one point, I had more than 1,400 names on the list. It’s down to about 1,050 now. 

These days, I mostly follow the public docket for the project at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC] and write up summaries and updates when new information is added to the docket. Sometimes, when there was a lot of activity, that might have been every few weeks. Now, it’s more of a monthly event.

I also use the same email list to send out twice-weekly summaries of oil and gas news – an edited news briefs package compiled from reading as much as I can. I’ve been doing that since 2009.

FERC issued the final environmental impact statement on March 7 and voting on the project authorization is scheduled for June. I suppose, if the project goes dormant at that time, so might my project updates. But I expect I will continue compiling, editing and distributing the news summaries. No charge for that either. It’s just an email, no website.


P&GJ: You’ve been covering the Alaska LNG project extensively for a while now. Do you think the project will get completed? If so, do you care to predict a date?

Persily: I’m sorry to say, I don’t see the Alaska LNG project advancing beyond its final EIS [environmental impact statement] and FERC authorization. Not for years, and maybe never. It’s just too costly, too much of a lift for an industry that is shying away from megaprojects and all the risks they entail. Besides, the world is not short of natural gas or liquefied natural gas developments. 

I see multiple other LNG projects – expansions and new projects – with lower costs and less risk than Alaska. It is going to take some awfully deep pockets to pull off an Alaska North Slope gas project, and I don’t see those pockets lining up. At one time, the state of Alaska wanted to take the lead, but that was before the state treasury hit the wall of billion-dollar budget deficits.


P&GJ: What would the Alaska LNG project mean to those in the pipeline business as far as work goes?

Persily: If the project ever goes ahead, direct and indirect, and contractor and subcontractor, and manufacturer and fabricator jobs could measure several tens of thousands worldwide. The project would need about 870 miles of large-diameter steel pipe. And it would need it delivered to remote work sites in Alaska. As I tell people, this project is the dream of every 12-year-old who grew up playing with Tonka toy trucks.


P&GJ: You were the federal coordinator of the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects, 2010-2015. Do you ever miss the political life?

Persily: I miss Washington, D.C. I miss the history, the sun, the monuments, the excellent taxi service and the cookies I could lift from receptions. I don’t miss the politics or the silly protocols. After almost 50 years in Alaska, I am immersed in Alaska politics and comment on it frequently (some would say constantly). I’d comment on national politics, too, but I can’t think of anything nice to say

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