02/11/2011 01:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Natural Gas for Homer, Alaska -- or Bust

As talk continues about gas lines, bullet lines and spurs, it's a 3,200-foot pipeline in Anchor Point that best symbolizes the strange state of Alaska natural gas in 2011.

The pipeline doesn't have a name and, right now, it doesn't do anything. Within the next few months, though, it will start delivering natural gas to Chapman Elementary School, and sometime next year, it could be the first step in delivering natural gas to Homer.

While the rest of Southcentral Alaska has enjoyed a cheap, abundant supply of gas of decades, Homer has relied on heating oil -- paying an economic and an environmental price that other communities don't pay.

That means Homer has paid millions more for heating than households and businesses from Wasilla to Soldotna. Since late 2007, Homer's dependence on heating oil has run against its Climate Action Plan.

Homer is closer than ever to getting natural gas, but the Cook Inlet market looks much different than it did a quarter century ago. If Homer gets natural gas, it will also get all the benefits and all the heartaches felt by the rest of Southcentral Alaska.

'Homer will get gas'

Why didn't Homer get natural gas sooner?

"The biggest overriding thing is, of course, economics," said John Sims, a spokesman for Enstar Natural Gas Co., the largest gas company in Alaska. "The second is gas supply."

Southcentral lucked into natural gas. While searching for oil in the late 1950s, companies stumbled upon huge natural gas reservoirs. Without an outside market, they signed long-term contracts locally, giving the Anchorage area decades of cheap fuel.

With the Prudhoe Bay discovery in 1968, those companies mostly stopped exploring the Cook Inlet. ...

Read the complete story and much more at Alaska Dispatch.