WASILLA — With less than a week before the primary election, all three Republican gubernatorial candidates stuck to their guns in a debate Thursday at the Alaska Club.

The natural gas pipeline dominated the event, as it has the election, and, arguably, state politics in general for a number of years.

Bill Walker, as he has all along, pushed hard on the idea of building an in-state line to Valdez and selling gas to the Asian markets. Incumbent Sean Parnell said his administration is pursuing every option out there, including the Valdez route, but also a pipeline to Canada to sell gas to the Lower 48 and a smaller line to serve the state. Ralph Samuels argued again for the incremental approach — bringing a small line to help kick-start mines in the Interior, then to Fairbanks and finally to Southcentral Alaska.

Walker said he is running because the oil pipeline is mostly empty and getting emptier. A crisis is looming.

“I don’t like knowing what I know and not being able to do anything about it,” he said.

Samuels said he’s running because he’s a staunch supporter of free market solutions and is tired of seeing the government try to solve the state’s problems.

“We have only one thing growing in this state — state government,” he said. “The private sector is what will drive us into the future, not an out-of-control state government.”

Parnell said he’s running because Alaska was a land of opportunity when he was in high school in Anchorage and he wants it to stay that way.

“I am in this race because I believe in Alaska and I believe in Alaskans,” he said.

Getting back to the topic of the gas pipeline, Walker said Parnell is being disingenuous when he says the administration is working to make the Valdez line a reality. He said Parnell pays lip service to the all-Alaska line, but throws up roadblocks at every turn.

For his part, Parnell said private industry will decide which route makes sense based on which is most cost-effective. Having government step in and choose which route to build is almost a form of tyranny.

Samuels said state government is good at stopping private industry, but all but incapable of pushing a private project across the finish line. Building the small pipeline he advocates would create new mining jobs and lower the steadily rising costs of energy in Fairbanks and the rest of the state.

“There are things we can do to make the day-to-day lives of Alaskans better for generations,” he said.

Walker called that a cop out. His line would provide gas for the state while also bringing in revenue.

“If we end up settling for a small-diameter line — shame on us,” he said.

Parnell stuck to his line about working all three projects.

“We are going to pursue all options to bring Alaskan gas to market and points beyond,” he said.

Although the candidates were passionate about the gas pipeline, Thursday’s debate wasn’t all natural gas. The candidates also talked about oil.

Walker said the state desperately needs more oil. and there is oil out there. If he were governor and the federal government continued to refuse to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he would get a rig right up to the property line, drop a well and then drill sideways to suck the oil out from under the refuge.

“If you want to arrest somebody, come arrest me,” he said, envisioning how he would handle the ensuing uproar.

Samuels said he would fight hard against the federal government and would work to make sure regulations were rational and that risk was shared.

Parnell said he’s offered tax credits to companies searching and drilling for oil on state land and he would continue to push back against the federal government if and when it attempted to lock up resources.

Contact Andrew Wellner at andrew.wellner@frontiersman.com or 352-2270.

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