The state and its three oil company partners in the Alaska LNG project voted Thursday afternoon to approve initial design work for the next fiscal year, keeping the prospects of a natural gas pipeline in Alaska alive.


The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC), the state agency that holds the state’s voting rights on the project, voted unanimously to cast a “yes” vote on behalf of the state.


The move will cost $60 million in state funds — money the Legislature appropriated in a special session last month after agreeing to buy out TransCanada, the company that had previously acted as the state’s banker for AKLNG.


Thursday’s meeting was the first time the state has cast a vote as a full 25 percent equity owner in the project.


“This is a day to celebrate for Alaska,” said Dave Cruz, acting chairman of the AGDC board. “Another milestone that we’ve gotten through.”


Cruz took over leadership of the board after Alaska Gov. Bill Walker fired previous chair, John Burns, last month. AGDC’s president resigned less than 24 hours later.


The sudden changes in leadership had lead some legislators to fear oil company partners and the LNG market might view the state as an unstable partner.


AGDC was originally scheduled to take up a vote on moving the project forward November 20th, but Gov. Walker said he wanted to hold out as leverage to obtain gas availability agreements from oil company partners.


In a statement released Thursday, the Governor thanked two of the three partners — ConocoPhillips and BP — for “agreeing to continue [to] negotiate” those agreements.


There was no mention of such an agreement from ExxonMobil, who the Governor has accused of slowing the pace of the project. At a press availability Friday morning, Walker said he hadn’t reached a gas commitment agreement that ExxonMobil was comfortable with yet.


In a statement Friday morning, Kimberly Jordan, a spokesperson for Exxonmobil said:


“ExxonMobil has been working diligently to find mutually acceptable terms to progress the Alaska LNG project and remains committed to doing so. As requested by the governor, ExxonMobil has been negotiating with the state on withdrawal and has a confidentiality agreement in place to discuss other commercial agreements that would progress the project. We, and many others, have communicated to the state, these agreements take time to negotiate and complete.”


At the same meeting Friday morning, the governor told reporters he is now the lead negotiator on the state’s gas project, after removing Rigdon Boykin from the role. Boykin was an expensive attorney that earned more than $850,000 through his work on AKLNG. His contract was terminated on Nov. 30.


Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story said approving initial design work for the next fiscal year would cost the state nearly $158 million, that price included the state’s acquisition of TransCanada’s interest. The design work itself is $60 million. 


Editor’s Note: an earlier version of this story stated that BP and ConocoPhillips had signed gas availability agreements. The Governor’s office has confirmed they have not been signed yet, but says it will be done “as soon as possible.”