Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker swung through Ketchikan Wednesday, speaking to the local Chamber of Commerce. Walker’s talk focused on his current job as general counsel to the Alaska Gasline Port Authority rather than his campaign, but he did stray a couple of times into politics.
Walker said his first stop in Ketchikan is always the shipyard.
“I get so excited because we don’t make stuff in Alaska. Except here,” he said. “When I brag about Ketchikan I say, ‘My frustration with the state of Alaska is that we play all defense; we don’t play any offense.’ Ketchikan plays all offense, no defense.”
Walker played offense a bit, as well, during his presentation, pointing out what he characterized as Alaska’s errors when it comes to developing the state’s natural gas.
Walker said he worked with various consultants and researchers to learn whether there was a viable and profitable market for Alaska’s natural gas, and the simple answer was: Yes.
He said the largest market for our natural gas would be Asia, because it’s a straight shot over the ocean. And we could provide it at a lower cost than anywhere else. Walker said it could add up to $419 billion in state revenue over the next 30 years. He said the problem is that state officials didn’t move forward with proposals submitted by the port authority and by Asian companies.
“Not a single one of the companies got a call back,” he said. “They contacted me and said, ‘We do these things all over the world and never had a non-response to our letters of intent.’ Obviously, there’s something really wrong with us.”
Walker said the state appears to be waiting for the big oil companies — Exxon, BP and ConocoPhillips — to do something with the natural gas, but it’s been 35 years.
Walker also talked about the state’s oil tax structure, which was amended last session through the controversial Senate Bill 21. Walker opposes SB21, because, he said, it doesn’t make financial sense for the state, and it no longer provides incentive for exploration.
“There used to be an exploration credit. We’ve taken that away,” he said. “Now it’s all associated with production, so we’ve really rewarded those that are already there, doing what they do on the legacy fields, but we really haven’t gone after specific fields, the heavy oil. We should target the heavy oil, the shale oil. It’s like if we were going duck hunting, we just fired a shotgun in the air blindly, hoping a duck’s flying over.”
Walker said Alaska needs to be less patient with oil companies, to make them develop the fields, as specified in their leases. He said the new oil tax structure will not lead to more oil in the pipeline, but it will lead the state toward deficit spending.
Walker is running as an independent candidate, which means he won’t face a primary challenge. He will be on the general election ballot next November.
Another gubernatorial candidate is due to visit Ketchikan soon. Byron Mallott, former director of the Alaska Permanent Fund, is running as a Democrat, and he’ll make a campaign stop next week.