JUNEAU -

A bill that may be the first step in developing a multi-billion dollar pipeline to bring Alaska’s natural gas to market had its first hearing Tuesday in the state Legislature’s Senate Finance Committee.

"What we're asking for is about two years’ time -- and about $100 million -- to go out and further explore the project costs, the commercial risks, and investigate the opportunities of marketing this gas to buyers in Pacific markets,” said Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash.

Balash refers to this stage of the project as “pre-feed,” or the front end engineering and designing phase. It could take a decade to build the gas line, which would span from the North Slope, to the Kenai Peninsula.

Preliminary estimates peg the pipeline’s cost between $45 billion and $50 billion, with construction slated to start in 2019. The trans-Alaska pipeline, which was completed in 1977, cost $8 billion at the time -- a figure that would be much higher in today’s funds.

A proposal by then-Gov. Bill Egan for the state to own a share of the pipeline fell short by one Senate vote. Balash says Alaska missed out on potential royalties because of that vote, and he doesn't want the state to make the same mistake with the gas pipeline.

"We think owning up front a share of the project -- not just a share of the pipeline, but a share of the treatment plant and the liquefaction plant -- is the best way to maximize our value," Balash said.

Balash’s first task is selling the idea to Senate Finance, convincing members to put up the seed money necessary to kick-start the project.

"No one has a crystal ball, no one predicted that we would see a $114 barrel of oil," said Sen. Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel). "We don't know what is going to happen with oil or gas, and I guess that's why we take it a step at a time."

Testimony from TransCanada, BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil continues Wednesday morning. Those energy producers could be partners with the state on construction and operation of the line.