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Murkowski promotes gas line, rail link to Canada

The Associated Press

(Published November 8, 2000)

Fairbanks -- Sen. Frank Murkowski is back at home in Alaska, where he's touting the construction of a trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline.

A gas line also could help spur development of a railroad linking Alaska to Canada and the Lower 48, Murkowski said.

The Alaska Republican made the comments Monday while talking with reporters and speaking with students and faculty at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Murkowski also addressed opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

If the North Slope's natural gas deposits are commercialized, then petrochemicals for such uses as plastics could be developed from gas liquids in Alaska and shipped on the railroad, Murkowski said.

Fairbanks could be the location for that kind of petrochemical plant, he said.

"That potentially could affect dramatically the tonnage anticipated for a rail connection to the Canadian system," Murkowski said. "It's another consideration as you look at the economics."

A rail connection to Canada would require 1,150 miles of new track. It would run from Eielson Air Force Base at North Pole to Fort St. John or Fort Nelson in British Columbia.

A railroad would help tap Alaska and Canada mineral and timber resources, he said.

Alaska Railroad representatives have estimated the cost of building the railroad extension at $1 million to $2 million per mile, which could put the price tag of the project at between $1.15 billion and $2.3 billion.

Murkowski is pushing legislation through Congress that would create a joint U.S.-Canada commission to study the feasibility of a rail line to Canada.

The senator also envisions laying rail to Northwest Alaska, which he said could provide access to the extremely high quality coal of Point Lay on the Bering Sea.