When word broke two weeks ago that GOP presidential nominee John McCain had picked Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, among the few San Diegans to have actually met her was a small coterie of executives from Sempra Energy. It happens that back in May 2005, the giant San Diego–based utility holding company was seeking to build a pipeline to bring natural gas from Alaska’s North Slope down to Valdez on the coast so it could be liquefied, loaded into tankers, and shipped to Sempra’s liquefied natural gas terminal near Rosarito in Baja California. The project was sponsored by the Alaska Gasline Port Authority, a government agency whose members included the City of Valdez as well as the Fairbanks North Star Borough — akin to a county in the Lower 48 — where the city of Fairbanks is located.
But Sempra wasn’t alone in coveting the project. Other big energy outfits, including oil giants Conoco, BP, and Exxon, were also in the hunt for the pipeline concession that could provide billions of dollars of new revenue. Enter Palin, then ex-mayor of the small town of Wasilla, who was recruited by the Sempra backers for their TV, radio, and newspaper ads — paid for by Sempra — promoting the project as the “all-Alaska gas pipeline.” Palin was joined in the spots by former Alaska governors Jay Hammond and Walter Hickel, as well as retired state senate president Rick Halford. According to the Anchorage Daily News, Sempra was paying Halford $25,000 a month to lobby the project through the state legislature.
The big oil companies, which wanted to pipe the gas down the Alaska Highway and then through Canada to Chicago, attacked the Sempra ad campaign, claiming that the West Coast was too small a market for the natural gas from Alaska and that it needed to be piped directly to the American Midwest and East Coast.
The resistance was so fierce that Sempra, having paid $6.25 million to the port authority to promote the project, eventually ran up the white flag and pulled out of the deal. “The protracted political wrestling taking place in Alaska is costly and very time consuming,” said Darcel Hulse, who runs Sempra’s liquefied natural gas operation, in a June 2005 letter to the authority. “While all this is taking place, the West Coast market is being actively pursued by others.” Hulse’s letter added that then-governor Frank Murkowski and U.S. senator Ted Stevens had also hindered the effort.
Ironically, after Palin was elected governor as a reform candidate in 2006, her administration backed a plan by a Canadian company, TransCanada, to build a 1715-mile pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to an already existing pipeline hub in Alberta; last month she signed the bill awarding TransCanada a license to proceed.
Sempra spokesman Art Larson said nobody at the company, including Hulse, would discuss their relationship with Palin. A longtime Sempra executive, Hulse has contributed $5000 to Proposition 8, the measure on November’s California ballot to ban gay marriage in the state. Alaska public records show that he has long held a hunting and fishing license there.