The difference between how bureaucrats view money and funding and how capitalists view them is on stark display in Alaska. MidAmerican Energy, 80% owned by Berkshire Hathaway
At issue was the Alaskan government's unwillingness to grant MidAmerican a five-year exclusivity for developing a pipeline from the North Slope. The MidAmerican proposal would have created a 745-mile line to the Yukon border, where it would have tied into a pipeline to be constructed by TransCanada Corporation. Other companies that have considered building a pipeline to the lower 48 states include BP
MidAmerican pulled its application this past week, saying that it had discussed the exclusivity period with the Alaskan government in the past as a condition of its fronting the development funds and the accelerated schedule the company proposed to construct the pipeline. MidAmerican wanted the exclusivity in no small part because it does not own any reserves in the North Slope, so its economic benefit would be only based on the economic viability of the pipeline.
Even with the substantial asset pool of Berkshire Hathaway backing MidAmerican, the amount of investment dollars required to build such a pipeline would be an enormous risk for the company. Without any assurances from Alaska that the company wouldn't have to worry about competing pipelines while it conducted its pre-construction work, the potential for a kneecapped economic return simply didn't, in the company's analysis, outweigh the risk.
On Friday, the governor's office in Alaska expressed its opinion that it had offered MidAmerican a good deal, and encouraged MidAmerican to continue to negotiate. But MidAmerican isn't negotiating this deal with someone else's or taxpayer dollars -- it'd be using its own money to build the pipeline. It has determined what it would take to make the risk worth its while, and it's not moving from that point. The state government says it cannot grant exclusivity based upon countervailing needs among state constituents. That's fine, but that's not MidAmerican's problem.
Bill Mann owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Please view his profile for a complete list of holdings.