COMMENTARY: Why natural gas to liquids for Alaska? National security

Alaska, the only North American region partially occupied by an enemy during World War II, and a bastion of defense during the Korean Conflict and the Cold War has the opportunity to again serve our nation during troubling times.

The Department of Defense is actively researching and even implementing the concept of “single fuel” to substitute for gasoline, diesel, and aircraft (including JP) fuels. The concept makes sense, as manufacturing, storing, transporting and utilization of a number of different liquids is expensive and cumbersome.

Enter the Fischer-Tropsch (or like) processes gasifying and then processing various materials to useable liquids. The F-T technology is not new nor is it not being utilized. Natural gas to liquids (GTL), coal to liquids (CTL) and biomass to liquids (BTL) are being developed throughout the world.

This access to vast quantities of aircraft, vehicle, vessel and small engine fuels is critical; doubly so, as the Iranians, in a show of saber rattling, are letting the world know they can disrupt, if not stop, trafficking crude oil through the Straits of Hormuz, the narrow opening of the Arabian Gulf to the Indian Ocean.

Others, in the event to hostilities could intercept and slow vessel traffic through the Straits of Malacca, the shallow passage south of Singapore, the route to the Pacific Ocean.

A GTL (or CTL) plant in Alaska, while utilizing conventional transportation and storage within the state, could also fulfill military desires throughout the Pacific Basin.

Alaska, with its vast quantities of coal and natural gas should enter this field, both to service domestic needs, but also to support the nation’s military mission in the Pacific Basin. As the state and industry continue to ponder a natural gas line to the Lower 48 and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is pushed, both into questionable competitive markets, Alaskans continue to suffer under extremely high petroleum fuel prices.

Strategically located Alaska has the potential of delivering completed fuel at a shorter distance, and more secure routes, than any other domestic region; and far more reliable and safe than from foreign sources. For example vessels traveling from Alaska to a forward base at Guam can be shadowed and protected by the U.S. Navy and land based aircraft.

The following table depicts these distance and security advantages:

                                                            Nautical Miles

From-To                                              One-way                 Round trip

Cook Inlet to Guam (direct)                 4,028                        8,056

Cook Inlet to Guam (via Adak)            4,153                        8,306

Adak to Guam (direct)                         3,048                        6,096

Valdez to Guam (via Anacortes)         6,137                       12,274

Valdez to Guam (via Los Angeles)     7,374                        14,748

Not only does Alaska (from either Cook Inlet or Valdez) offer greatly shortened distances to the important American military facilities at, for example, Guam, Alaska also offers a major fuel caching point on the Island of Adak, at the apex of the Pacific Ocean.

The other routes (via Anacortes, Wash., or Los Angeles, require Alaska crude oil to be transported to refineries to be converted to various fuel, then shipped across the ocean. The Fischer-Tropsch refinery in Alaska would directly ship completed liquid fuels.

Alaskans, as well and the entire nation, can benefit from our in-state natural resources; and again, our strategic location. To do this will require a shift of policy regarding the future of utilization of Alaska’s resources.

With the state legislature shortly going into session, and threats to the security of the United States, there is no time to waste in seriously considering the future of the non-polluting F-T fuels.

Terry Brady is a 50-year plus Alaskan who has consulted on natural resource issues and transportation throughout North and Central America, the Far East and Europe. He was formerly a top-secret cleared member of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project and maintains an interest in national security.

01/05/2012 - 1:59pm