New Alaska gas pipeline deputy federal coordinator is seasoned hand

Deputy US Transportation Secretary Thomas J. Barrett will become deputy coordinator on May 26 of federal agencies' efforts to construct a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the Lower 48 states.

May 15th, 2009

Deputy US Transportation Secretary Thomas J. Barrett will join the office coordinating federal agencies' responses to expedite construction of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the Lower 48 states as its deputy coordinator on May 26.

His appointment will bring an administrator to the office with experience not only in Alaska, where he was US Coast Guard Commander from 1999 to 2002, but also as a federal pipeline regulator.

Barrett, who is a retired US Coast Guard vice admiral, was sworn in as the first administrator of the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on May 31, 2006. He became deputy Transportation secretary on Aug. 8, 2007, after being named acting deputy secretary on March 3 of that year.

"I've had the pleasure of working with Tom for nearly 20 years, both in Alaska and the Lower 48 . . . [He] brings leadership, experience, and incredible energy to this new challenge which is so crucial to the long-term energy security of the United States and to the State of Alaska," said Drue Pearce, federal coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Projects, as she announced Barrett's selection on May 6.

Three decades of discussion

Construction of a gas pipeline from Alaska's North Slope to markets in the Lower 48 states and in Alaska has been discussed for 30 years, Barrett noted.

"This pipeline is not just an Alaska project but is a vital national infrastructure project. Tens-of-thousands of good jobs will be created through the life of the project and clean energy will be delivered to Americans," he maintained. Barrett will return to Alaska, where he lived for 14 years, to direct the ANGP federal coordination and manage its field office in Anchorage.

Salt Lake City-based Northwest Energy Corp. originally proposed the idea of building such a pipeline in 1977, but dropped the plan soon after it became a Williams Cos. Inc. subsidiary.

Basic challenge

High gas prices in the late 1990s led to its revival. Depressed prices now, and the potential to produce gas from more shale formations in the Lower 48 states, have some observers questioning whether so massive a project would ever be economic. The challenge for federal and Alaska state government officials will be to keep it moving.

Alaska Gov. Sarah H. Palin welcomed Barrett's appointment. "His career has put him in positions to protect Alaska's people fisheries and environment. We are fortunate to have him watching over the development and construction of the Alaska natural gas pipeline," she said on May 6.

"I look forward to working with Federal Coordinator Pearce, Admiral Barrett, and their entire staff. Having this quality of individual involved in moving the Alaska gas pipeline project forward is a benefit to Alaska and the entire nation," said Mark Myers, the state's Alaska Gas Inducement Act coordinator.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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