Sarah Takes On Big Oil
The compelling story of Governor Sarah Palin's battle
with Alaska's 'Big 3' oil companies,
as told by the state's top oil and gas editors

by Kay Cashman
& Kristen Nelson

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson
PNA Publishing: Anchorage, 2008

195 pages; many b&w & color photos

April 2011

A 1700-mile natural-gas pipeline?

For Alaskans, the term "gasline" is as familiar as "irrigation" is to Californians or "Wall Street" is to New Yorkers. Except that Californians and New Yorkers already reap the benefits of these economic lifelines, while Alaskans have been waiting more than fifty years to realize the benefits of the state's vast reserves of natural gas.
Sarah Palin
"Drill, Baby, Drill"
Going Rogue  (2009)

This brief history, Sarah Takes On Big Oil by Kay Cashman and Kristen Nelson, is a cross-section of energy issues:

  • who brings it out of underground or undersea?
  • how is it moved to where it's used?
  • who moves it?
  • who pays for the moving?
    — which must also be about these meta-energy concerns:
  • who blocks, entangles, or corrupts the above processes?
  • who clarifies and facilitates the above processes?

Specifically, these are Alaskan issues of great importance to America's prosperity and energy independence: issues of technique, practicability, finance, taxation. The related concerns are of corruption, secrecy, and foot-dragging — versus clarity, transparency, honesty, and efficiency.

The potential energy at hand is natural gas in Alaska, and the contention is about moving it from the North Slope via a proposed 1715-mile gas pipeline to Alberta, Canada — where it could flow into the existing pipeline network.

The principal players are Alaska's three largest oil producers: British Petroleum (BP), ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil; Republican Governor Frank Murkowski; and the woman who defeated and succeeded him, Republican Governor Sarah Palin. There are plenty of others, most interestingly some Alaska legislators, and oil-company executives and lobbyists.

Alaska Gasline Inducement Act

The book discusses a number of concepts important to understanding the production and distribution of natural gas: exploration, risk, reserves, shipping commitments, stranded gas, and an open-access pipeline; with considerations such as: a 45-year freeze on oil-companies' taxes and royalties, and reimbursement for these; and legislation such as the Production Profits Tax (PPT - Murkowski), the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA - Palin), and Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES - Palin). Alaska energy affects all Americans, and all informed citizens should know something of these matters.

The structure of the story

Much of the material in Sarah Takes On Big Oil is taken from articles in Petroleum News, where Cashman and Nelson are editors. This provides advantages of immediacy and a generally chronological presentation; but also disadvantages of repetitiveness and less of an overall narrative line than non-specialists might prefer. I suppose most potential readers of this book already will have read Sarah Palin's autobiography Going Rogue, published about a year later. Palin provides a more accessible introduction to gasline politics, and I recommend reading her own book first. If you should want more detail, go on to the Cashman and Nelson volume. And there is plenty of related, and more current, material to be found in Petroleum News. Of course the story of gas in Alaska, and the gasline project, is far from over.

Against corruption

Lack of imagination and foresight, insufficient capital and stifling regulation, are not the only bulwarks of inertia. Corruption too often plays a significant role.

It is difficult to overestimate the damage that corruption has done to American prosperity, national independence, and individual liberty. But it doesn't have to be that way.

All told, a dozen lawmakers, staffers, and oil company executives would be found guilty of multiple charges, including wire fraud, bribery, conspiracy, and tax evasion.
Sarah Palin
"Drill, Baby, Drill"
Going Rogue

Cynicism and secrecy are allies of corruption; honesty and courage are its foes.


© 2011 Robert Wilfred Franson

R. W. Franson's review of
Going Rogue:
An American Life
by Sarah Palin

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