Valdez expands efforts to sway public opinion on natural gas development
Valdez officials met in a special work session before Monday night’s regularly scheduled council meeting to hear updates – and additional proposals – in the city’s efforts to educate Alaskans and sway public opinion towards the newly rebranded MVP – Maximum Volume Pipeline. The MVP gasline concept is nothing new to Valdez; it is the Alaska Gasline Port Authority’s concept that calls for a large-diameter state owned natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Port Valdez.
The project has been repackaged by Valdez officials - with a little help from Walsh Sheppard, the public relations firm hired by the city – to distinguish the Valdez backed gasline concept from past and current competing projects. Early on, Walsh Sheppard warned city officials that the Alaskan voting public had grown wary of competing natural gas development schemes, the similar sounding project names and were confused or worse, apathetic.
The first of a series of TV commercials and radio ads to be run statewide were debuted during the work session. City manager John Hozey also warned council that the campaign as a whole, had changed its scope and may need an upward budget adjustment.
During its regular meeting, the council also unanimously voted in favor of signing a contract worth $39,000 with former House Rep. Gene Kubina. to act as eyes, ears and mouthpiece in Juneau when HB4, or other natural gas topics, arise.
Taylor Bickford of public relations firm Strategies 360 has also begun preliminary work for the city. Bickford gave the council a briefing on a community meeting in Seward he attended that was hosted by members of the ASAP project team.
“There was quite a bit of misinformation that was put out,” Bickford told city officials.
His criticisms of the ASAP presentation included, but was not limited to, what he described as giving the impression to attendees that the ASAP line was actually in full-swing, and virtually unstoppable; glossed over the fact that prices for many Alaskans purchasing the gas would actually cost more than current supplies; and giving the impression the MVP project is not actually feasible. He also said Valdez as a city was portrayed as greedy.
He recommended the city attempt to counter the ASAP meetings with its MVP message. The ASAP meetings are scheduled throughout Alaska through April, and according to Bickford, quite persuasive in favor of the ASAP project, and dismissive of the MVP project.
The public relations campaign began last February. During a work session between Walsh Sheppard and city officials, the firm was directed by council to pursue a campaign aimed at quashing House Bill 4, which is legislation quickly winding its way through various Alaska House committees, that calls for a thin-pipe natural gas line, similar to the so called “bullet line” proposal from last year’s legislative session. The HB4 legislation has branded itself as “ASAP,” the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline. If passed by the legislature, it would build a state-financed natural gas only (no liquids such as propane) pipeline from the North Slope to the Anchorage area.