Prayers, money, and jobs: Alaska native corporation hunts for natural gas near Glennallen

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GLENNALLEN, Alaska (KTUU) - Just North of Anchorage, near Milepost 175 of the Glenn Highway and about 10 miles west of Glennallen, native corporation Ahtna Inc. has built a road and a drilling pad to start the hunt for natural gas.

Rebecca Palsh / KTUU

If there is a significant natural gas find it could lower energy prices in the Copper River Basin, and possibly other areas of the state as well.

This week, the Tolsona No. 1 drilling rig cranked steadily under sunny skies as reporters and Ahtna board members toured the site.

"When I see this, I see hopefully good times head," said Ahtna president Michelle Anderson.

The exploratory well is drilling to depths of 4,000 to 5,000 feet during a 36-day drilling program. Ahtna is halfway done and the stakes are high. This is one of the few times a company has drilled for oil and gas outside of the North Slope or Cook Inlet areas.

"It's a middle group between our normal operating centers for oil and gas: North Slope and Cook Inlet," said Dan Lee, an oil and gas development manager for Ahtna. "So I don't know who coined it, but it has been deemed 'Middle Earth.' There's other basins, Nenana as well as this basin, fall under this jurisdiction of new exploration."

Anderson, who grew-up in Glennallen, says she remembers the excitement, jobs, and money that poured into the area during the construction of the pipeline. She says since then, the population has shrunk and energy costs have increased.

"When the pipeline construction slowed down, people moved away," Anderson said. "The out-migration was unbelievable. Our population plummeted to basically what it is today. We've actually gotten smaller over the years.

"When I see something like this, I'm seeing the days of when we had larger numbers of people living here, our schools were thriving, business were growing and booming, and it was just a healthy, busy community that's what I want again," she added.

Census estimates put the number of people living in Glennallen at about 500. Anderson says energy bills for most people in the area are about the equivalent of a mortgage in Anchorage.

Currently about 60 people are working on the project in Glennallen.

"We've had people praying over this project since the very beginning of it," Anderson said, "and still today we have people praying over it."

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