Murkowski said the three major Alaska oil producers, BP, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, have assured him that they plan to submit applications to build a pipeline.
"It's a first step, but a very important one. We have reason to believe that we will get an application," the Republican governor told reporters after a signing the bill at an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce forum. "That will start the negotiations, and the intent is to get that completed by the end of the year."
Murkowski said he believes there is a limited time for Alaska natural gas to be commercialized. Otherwise, liquefied natural gas from overseas will fill United States needs, he said.
Prudhoe Bay and surrounding areas hold an estimated 35 trillion cubic feet of known natural gas reserves, the biggest known but untapped supply in the nation. The area might hold up to 100 trillion cubic feet of yet undiscovered reserves, state officials have said. However, the distance from markets and the high cost of building a pipeline have prevented development.
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