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Story Last modified at 10:09 a.m. on Thursday, June 23, 2011

Popp: Development picture bleak
AEDC head says barriers are discouraging growth

BY MATT TUNSETH
Alaska Star

photo:News

Anchorage Economic Development Corp. president Bill Popp speaks to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce on June 15.
STAR PHOTO by MATT TUNSETH

If barriers to oil and gas development aren't taken down, the state's oil, gas and mining future could be bleak. That's according to Anchorage Economic Development Corporation president Bill Popp, who delivered an Alaska resource extraction forecast at a meeting of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce at the Bear Mountain Grill on June 15 in Eagle River.

"I'll be very blunt. Optimism does not drive this forecast," Popp told the chamber.

Popp said past forecasts were much more optimistic about the potential for new projects and discoveries in Alaska. But it's his belief that the culture in Alaska has begun to push big companies away due to red tape. Just a few years ago, he said, a company could come to Alaska and expect a return on its investment within a few years. Not anymore.

"Time is becoming very expensive in our state," Popp said.

Instead of taking three to five years to get a project from conception to construction, Popp said it now takes a decade or more. He asked chamber members if they'd be willing to wait more than 10 years to get a return on a potential investment.

"How many of you are going to line up for that?" he asked.

Popp's talk wasn't all gloom and doom. One project that could have a big impact on the resource extraction picture, he said, will be a planned shale oil project being explored by Great Bear Petroleum. Popp said the company wants to use new technology to get at oil that was previously trapped in shale deposits below ground.

Similar technology has been used in North Dakota to set off an oil boom over the past decade.

"It could be very exciting for the State of Alaska," he said.

Popp said the best thing Alaska can do to encourage new development is to remove the hurdles oil and mining companies now face. He said companies are frustrated by the ability of environmental groups to hold up projects for years in legal fights, and would like to see the Legislature address the issue.

"Everyone deserves their opportunity for a day in court," he said.

The biggest project that gets discussed in Alaska these days is a North Slope gas line. But Popp said people have to realize that putting all of the state's eggs in the gas line basket isn't wise.

"A project is not a plan. It is not a strategy," he said. "It is only one project."

Without encouraging new development, Popp said Alaska's economic future could be less than promising.

"We're basically entering into a flat period of growth," he said.

Popp's speech wasn't all about finding ways to spur resource development. He also talked about what the AEDC is doing to make Anchorage a more livable city in the future, and said the group has been spending a lot of time trying to come up with ways to make Anchorage better.

To that end, he said AEDC has been conducting a survey asking people two simple questions: Why do you live here and why would you leave?

The idea, he said, is to come up with a plan to make Anchorage a more livable city in the future.

"We want to be the number one city in America to live, work and play," he said.

Popp also said that other indicators in Anchorage are good, and that the city is in decent shape economically.

"All in all we're looking pretty good," he said.

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com



This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, June 23, 2011.