Gov. Bill Walker continues to court world leaders to win their support for Alaska's giant gas-export project, saying Tuesday he personally put in a plug with President Donald Trump and is now trying to meet with Japan's prime minister, following recent talks with the Chinese president.
Whether the high-level efforts boost the fortunes of the $45 billion liquefied-natural-gas project, known as Alaska LNG, is yet to be seen.
Walker had proposed a Sept. 1 deadline to line up critical business partners before pulling the plug on the costly undertaking.
On Tuesday, he said he was hopeful the prominent attention would lead to financial commitments to push the proposal into construction. He didn't back off the deadline, though he seemed to keep his options open.
"It'd be great if we had someone by then," he said. "We'll have to evaluate by then where we are, what we've received, and how the world has changed. If someone last year told me we'd spend three to four hours with the president of China and his top Cabinet officials in Anchorage, I would have found that hard to believe."
After ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips dropped out as project sponsors last year, the governor and other state officials have stepped up efforts to find new investors and Asian utilities willing to buy gas.
In addition to meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Chinese leader's Alaska stopover Friday, Walker pitched the project to top members of Xi's entourage who remained in Alaska on Saturday, Walker said.
The group received a slideshow presentation about Alaska LNG and project folders written in Chinese characters.
Nikos Tsafos, an oil and gas consultant for the Alaska Legislature, said diplomatic talks won't alter the project's steep hurdles. That includes towering costs, like those for a North Slope facility to strip out carbon dioxide and reinject the greenhouse gas underground.
Processed methane gas would be shipped in an 800-mile pipeline to a liquefaction plant and port in Nikiski.
"The meetings don't hurt," Tsafos said. "But I don't think it really moves the dial."
Rosetta Alcantra, vice president of communications for Alaska Gasline Development Corp., the state agency leading the project, said commercial negotiations are ongoing with several parties. The agency will announce any agreements that might be signed with buyers or investors, she said.
AGDC in early March hosted 14 companies during a Girdwood summit about the project, with trips to Nikiski and the Slope gas fields. The agency has declined to release the names of the companies that attended, saying they are confidential.
Following the meetings with Xi and other Chinese officials, the state agency plans to meet with major energy companies from China, Alcantra said. AGDC President Keith Meyer is traveling to China in mid-May for an international LNG and gas summit.
In March, Walker sent letters to Trump and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeking meetings about Alaska LNG, according to copies of the governor's correspondence acquired in a public-records request.
And in a February letter to Trump, Walker sought the president's support for the project as Trump seeks to reinvigorate the national economy with big construction efforts.
Walker on Tuesday said his office is working with Abe's staff to arrange a meeting in Japan, probably within the next couple of months. Walker said he plans to travel there to follow up with companies that attended the Girdwood summit.
And Walker said he briefly referenced the project when he met Trump at the White House in late February, during events associated with the National Governors Association winter meeting.
Trump listened, and acknowledged big projects would be good for America, according to Walker.
On Friday, Xi said Trump was "complimentary" of the Alaska LNG project during their presidential summit at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, before Xi arrived in Alaska.
Walker took the news well.
"I'm pleased with the response" to the project, he said.