Governor pitches Alaska natural gas to Chinese sovereign wealth fund

Published: Sep. 27, 2017 at 10:45 PM AKDT
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The clock is running out fast on the latest of countless efforts to commercialize Alaska's massive natural gas reserves: the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corporation will be out of cash next year unless a large buyer is identified first, and policymakers grappling with a $2.5 billion budget gap are unlikely to throw more cash at the Alaska LNG Project ("AKLNG") without visible progress.

Gov. Bill Walker championed the effort long before he assumed office three years ago and throughout his term has done his best to woo the biggest potential buyers.

That is why the governor, yet again, finds himself in Asia this week.

During two past trips to Japan and one to Korea, Walker met with utility boards and government leaders, and this time around he is in China making a similar sales pitch for North Slope gas, a spokesperson confirmed.

The visit comes a few months after Chinese President Xi Jingping made a brief stop in the Last Frontier, when he visited with Walker.

Chinese news agency Xinhua reports that a highlight of Walker's trip was participation in a China-U.S. investment roundtable hosted by the China Investment Corporation, the nation's $800 billion sovereign wealth fund, and the China General Chamber of Commerce.

In an interview with the state-owned television network CGTN, Walker was pushed on why the Communist nation should strike a deal to help bring the $55 billion AKLNG mega-project to life.

"A lot of different kind of countries and states want to have a piece of (China) when it comes to the market of that 1.4 (billion people)," host Tian Wei said to Walker. "Even when it comes to that natural gas, certainly Alaska is a great source, but there are others from different parts of the world that all want to have a piece of pie."

"Ours is unique because of our location," Walker answered. "Seven to nine days of shipping time which is about one-third or one-quarter of what other locations are. So location is very critical, and also often the natural gas we have in Alaska is stranded gas. It's gas we need to get to the market so we can use it ourselves."

Wei also asked why it would be wise for a nation to bargain with a state, how any deal could really be considered stable given the anti-fossil fuel trend and recent unpredictability of U.S. politics, and of course about Walker's best-known predecessor, Sarah Palin.

Only time will tell if the China Investment Corporation, or any buyer of similar stature, emerges willing to pump cash into AKLNG.

In addition to a push for the gasline, during a five-day trip the governor is also advocating a direct flight from China to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, as well as an effort to get Chinese athletes, Xinhua reported.

WATCH: Gov. Bill Walker's full interview with CGTN's Tian Wei.