Big Oil in plot to curb non-union labor

Fairbanks leaders offered generally optimistic reaction Tuesday to two oil companies’ joint plan to work toward building a natural gas pipeline. Fairbanks (AK) North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker expressed cautious support. He noted similar projects have been discussed for decades without succeeding.

“We’ve seen lots of ideas and proposals come and go during that time. If this one finally gets a project built that’s in the state and the community’s best interests, we’ll be very supportive,” he said.

The companies, BP and ConocoPhillips, said Tuesday they would operate their exploratory Denali — The Alaska Gas Pipeline project from offices in Anchorage. Whitaker said he had already — prior to the announcement — told company executives that Fairbanks leaders are “most interested” in seeing them base either construction or long-term operational headquarters in Fairbanks.

“It makes logistical and economic sense that the headquarters for a project would be based in Fairbanks,” he said.

Executives for BP and ConocoPhillips told the Daily News-Miner on Tuesday they are open to the possibility of running part of a pipeline project from Fairbanks-based offices.

Fairbanks city Mayor Terry Strle took word of the effort as a cue to start thinking about how the massive project — it would be the largest private construction effort ever in North America, according to the companies — could impact local economies, roads and the demand for municipal services.

Pipeline communities and the state used a Municipal Advisory Group three years ago to discuss the issue when former Gov. Frank Murkowski and a trio of oil producers were drafting plans for a pipeline.

“I would think we would want to join with other communities” again in the discussion, Strle said, adding that Fairbanks learned “valuable lessons” about pipeline projects’ impact on cities during work on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline in the 1970s. “I would suspect, and certainly hope, that the oil companies would want to work with the communities as well to meet our needs.”

North Pole Mayor Doug Isaacson said he was “delighted” with the companies’ announcement. He said he hoped they include the option of finding an in-state use for natural gas-based liquids, compounds used as petrochemical feedstocks and for some heating fuels, in the discussion.

“I think that’s the right step. We need to move forward,” Isaacson said of the overall proposal. “(But) I’m afraid that our liquids are going to be gone.”

Labor force

BP Alaska president Doug Suttles and ConocoPhillips Alaska president Jim Bowles said Tuesday they will team up to assess exactly what type and size of work force would be needed for the proposed multibillion-dollar project. The assessment will be part of $30 million in studies focusing on roads and infrastructure and at training and labor needs, they said.

Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, said unions’ pre-pipeline training strategies will remain unchanged following word of the companies’ proposal. He said labor groups will push for a project labor agreement aimed at ensuring jobs go to qualified state workers, adding that he senses a willingness from oil executives to offer union leaders “stability” as they keep the workforce ready for a project.

“We want to make sure they’re committed to doing a project labor agreement similar to ones done for the (Fort Greely Army post) ground-based missile defense system and similar to the one done with the trans-Alaska pipeline,” he said.

Suttles said the two companies have spoken with state officials about options for helping prepare the state’s workforce for a project.

“We want to make sure we position Alaska well for those jobs,” Suttles said. The two companies have a good track record of hiring state residents, he said. “I hope that gives the public confidence with this project. We’re your neighbors.

“We want a well-qualified, capable workforce to prepare this project on time,” he said.

The companies are aiming to host an open season by the end of 2010 and, following that, could expect another three years of engineering and design work to precede construction, the executives said.


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