Alaska's U.S. senators, with the backing of the National Parks Conservation Association and the National Park Service, have introduced legislation to allow a natural gas pipeline to be routed through Denali National Park and Preserve parallel to a short stretch of the main park road.
The Denali National Park and Preserve Natural Gas Pipeline Act was introduced to the 112th session of Congress on Tuesday by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Mark Begich (D). The measure, which failed to gain passage in the last Congress, would give the Interior secretary the authority to grant a right-of-way along the George Parks Highway for construction of the gas pipeline. No officially designated wilderness would be crossed by the pipeline, according to the legislation.
The pipeline is seen as a necessary option if a larger pipeline from the state's North Slope gas fields fails to materialize.
“South-central needs natural gas and an in-state line provides an alternative solution to their future needs,” Sen. Murkowski said in a press statement. “By eliminating the uncertainty of permitting and regulatory delays, the Parks Highway route will be able to compete on a level playing field with other proposed routes.”
Sen. Begich said the pipeline would provide "Alaska families with affordable and stable energy costs.”
At NPCA, Senior Regional Director Jim Stratton said allowing the pipeline to run along the park highway makes sense environmentally and economically and carries large benefits to the national park.
"They would have to go into virgin wilderness to build a new road all around the park to avoid putting the pipeline in the park," Mr. Stratton said Wednesday. "Our perspective is one, there’s already a road there. ... And secondly, if it goes down the highway, it will be so easy for the Park Service to stick a straw into that pipeline" so it could replace diesel-powered generators for electricity with gas-fired ones and allow for the conversion of diesel-fueled tour buses to cleaner natural-gas-powered buses.
According to the senators, "The main gas line is currently expected to reach south-central Alaska in, or after, 2020. Due to the growing need for natural gas in that portion of the state, Alaska is considering investing in a smaller pipeline to meet medium-term demand. The proposed route is the shortest and most logical route for a pipeline through or around the roughly 10-mile bottleneck of the Nenana River Canyon and Denali National Park and Preserve following the existing highway, which passes briefly – 7 miles – through the park.
The proposed route would also be the least expensive to construct and operate."
According to the senators, the natural gas pipeline would:
* Allow for electricity generation from natural gas in the park facilities at Denali;
* Allow for reasonably priced compressed natural gas to be available to power park vehicles. Currently, diesel tour buses travel 1 million road miles annually, and converting the buses to CNG would significantly reduce air emissions in the park, and;
* Require a bridge to be built over the Nenana River. This also would provide a pedestrian access/bicycle path for visitors who otherwise must walk along the heavily traveled highway.
Alaska state regulators and financial markets will ultimately decide if this pipeline project will go forward, the senators said.