Alaska Gas Line: Palin OK's TransCanada

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin signed on the dotted line Friday and officially made a $500 million incentive available to TransCanada to do work on the long-awaited Alaska natural gas pipeline.

On Friday, she joined Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin and Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin in Fairbanks to formally award the gas line license to TransCanada’s executives.
Irwin said this was “a huge step forward in the development of Alaska’s natural gas resources.”

What’s that you say? There’s another gas pipeline project besides TransCanada’s? Oh yeah.
Denali, the effort of ConocoPhillips and BP, didn’t go the AGIA route and didn’t need to wait for any government sign-off for work to begin. Denali now has winter field work underway, geotechnical studies and borehole drilling, and preliminary engineering studies. They plan to be busy in the field in 2009 in Alaska and Canada getting ready for an open season in 2010 (when you get customers to commit to ship natural gas over the pipeline — none of this “if you build it they will come” nonsense).
TransCanada hasn’t been standing still: they did aerial photography this fall along two possible pipeline routes in Alaska (North Slope to Canada border and an alternative route to Valdez), as well as preliminary environmental and engineering work. But as the Alaska Journal of Commerce explains, the $500 million likely means TransCanada will pick up the pace:

Award of the license had been expected by TransCanada and what it really means is that half of the Canadian pipeline company’s costs in preparing for a 2010 open season will be reimbursed by the state. An open season is when a pipeline company solicits customers to ship gas.

But as the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner notes, it’s all academic, because it’s really up to the companies that control the natural gas which pipeline gets built: ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips.
It’s worth noting that ExxonMobil still hasn’t signed on to Denali. Maybe they’re just got better things to do and will get around to it eventually. But there might be some benefits of joining the TransCanada project — such as Alaska officials dropping their battle with Exxon over their Point Thomson leases?