ExxonMobil Goes Back to Alaska

Two decades after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) has joined a massive Alaskan engineering project and may be about to regain the favor of the state's citizenry.

The company announced on Thursday that it's putting its expertise behind a massive $26 billion pipeline project that will transport natural gas from Alaska's North Slope all the way to Chicago. In doing so, it's joining TransCanada Corp. (NYSE: TRP  ) , one of the largest pipeline operators in North America. It will also be competing with a similar pipeline proposal from BP (NYSE: BP  ) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) .

In 2008, through a competitive bidding process backed by the administration of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, TransCanada was awarded a state license to build a pipeline. Tied to the winning bid was a $500 million state subsidy, along with a promise that Alaska wouldn't negotiate with competitors as long as the company met certain requirements. The addition of ExxonMobil to the team does not affect TransCanada's contract. Indeed, Exxon will also be eligible for a matching subsidy up to $500 million.

The pipeline, which should become operative in 2018, is expected to provide access to 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, although some contend that that figure could be increased substantially through extensive exploration. From the North Slope, the pipeline would link with TransCanada's network 1,700 miles away in Alberta. Its throughput is expected to total up to 4.5 billion cubic feet per day.

My only question about the project is why now? Through the work of such companies as Chesapeake (NYSE: CHK  ) , Petrohawk (NYSE: HK  ) , and XTO (NYSE: XTO  ) , we now have a host of new gas developments, such as the Haynesville and Barnett shale. Both are laced with natural gas that is far more logistically attractive than the North Slope's offerings.

My main takeaway from this new series of events is an increased regard for ExxonMobil, which clearly will go anywhere to ply its trade. With more North Slope natural gas reserves than anybody, it clearly has the most to benefit from the pipeline. And with crude prices having moved upward in the past few months, Foolish investors clearly should not be unrepresented in the energy sector. In my opinion ExxonMobil is the ideal proxy for the group.

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ChesapeakeEnergy is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

 Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't have financial interests in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions or comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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