Alaska's economic future pretty much balances right now on a natural gas pipeline running from the North Slope to Nikiski. It's the main focus of Governor Bill Walker's administration, and he's lobbied two presidents and several foreign leaders to get on board.
While the project is making progress through a recent agreement with China, it's far from a certainty, at least in the mind of local elder statesman John Williams.
"It's a very iffy thing. You know there's been a lot of publicity about the Chinese have signed on the Chinese have done this, the Chinese have done that. The one thing they haven't done is put up any cash," he said. "The old saying, "show me the money, show me the money." When I see contracts that are signed and indications of hundreds of millions of dollars being placed either in escrow or in contracts, then I'll start to feel much better about the future of it. But right now, it's got a long way to go."
Williams is a former mayor the Kenai Peninsula Borough and for about two decades, mayor of the City of Kenai.
The proposed gas line would supply the railbelt with fuel for heat and electricity, but would terminate in Nikiski, where it would be liquefied and shipped overseas. Williams says the liquefied natural gas plant would be several times the size of the old Conoco Phillips plant.
"It has to be if in order to meet world trade conditions. if you're going to do anything at all. I mean, there are some plants out there that are humongous in size," he said. "There's one operating off of Australia that's a ship, an LNG processing ship, this thing is 14-hundred feet long, that's longer than an aircraft carrier. And they bring the gas on board and they liquefy it and ship it right from there. It's a monstrous thing."
Despite being in the indeterminate future, the borough is already looking at potential plans to re-route the Kenai Spur Highway when it reaches the Nikiski industrial area, which Williams says is not too premature.
"The bluff is creeping closer to the only road out there that's paved. You can use the emergency route, but I would hate to see us drop back 50 years to using a gravel road to Nikiski. That's where we were 50 years ago," Williams said. "So the state is going to answer the question as to what to do with that road that's about to fall over the bluff."
The real hold up right now, according to Williams is that the world is currently awash in cheap natural gas. With the aforementioned Australia, and other South Asian sources, producing so much, the current price is too low to make a pipeline through Alaska cost-effective.