Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is hopping on a flight Friday and heading back to South Korea – after just returning from a marketing trip there last week – to promote Alaska’s gas line efforts and other ways Alaska’s energy might support economic needs in Europe and Asia.
Keith Meyer, president of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., will accompany Walker on the trip, according to a statement from the governor’s office Friday.
This visit will last four or five days, said Grace Jang, the governor’s communications director.
Jang will also be part of the trip.
The Future Consensus Institute invited Walker to speak at a first-ever forum in Seoul, leading to the return visit. The institute will pay lodging, travel and ground transportation expenses for the governor and Jang, according to the governor’s office.
The cost of Meyer’s flight will be paid by the institute but will later be reimbursed by the state gas line corporation, an official there said.
The trip comes as the state is taking the reins of the $55 billion Alaska LNG project and partners Exxon Mobil, BP and ConocoPhillips stepping back support amid concerns about a global glut of liquefied natural gas.
Facing criticism about the potentially significant costs of a state-led project, Walker is testing the market in pursuit of Asian utilities that can support the project by committing to buy the state’s North Slope gas.
Late last month, Walker led a large state delegation on a 10-day marketing trip to Singapore and South Korea.
Following that visit, Walker received an invitation to return to Seoul from the institute, a nonprofit public policy research group, according to the governor’s statement.
The institute, launched last year in hope of becoming South Korea’s version of the Brookings Institution, consists of prominent business leaders, intellectuals and others, according to news articles. It has been called an ambitious think tank striving to improve life for future generations in South Korea and neighboring countries, and was started by a wealthy businessman, Cho Chang-gul.
The institute is hosting the forum Saturday through Tuesday with Joongang Ilbo, a daily newspaper in Korea, and the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a London-based international affairs think tank, the governor’s statement said.
Walker will speak Saturday, which is Sunday in South Korea because of the time-zone difference, said Jang. The governor will discuss “Alaska’s rich energy potential to provide economic opportunities in the Eurasian region,” the announcement said.
Walker also plans to be in Asia on Thanksgiving Day. He has said he will speak in Tokyo Nov. 24 at the Fifth annual LNG Producer-Consumer Conference, another event attracting the LNG market.
During this upcoming trip to South Korea, Walker and Meyer will meet with the deputy prime minister of Japan and other international leaders, the statement said.
“I am grateful for this opportunity to talk directly to leaders from Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United Kingdom about how Alaska’s vast energy resources can mutually benefit our respective economies,” Walker said. “There will be discussion of the changing Arctic during this forum, so I am eager to talk about how Alaska’s strategic location can provide the reliability and stability of resource delivery.”
The governor and state officials will be required to fill out ethics disclosure forms for the sponsored travel within 30 days or within 60 days after the gift was received, depending on circumstances, according to state law.
Travel and lodging costs on the governor’s recent trip to South Korea were paid for by the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which also covered those costs for two other members of the delegation.
The payment from the South Korean institute will also have to be reported.
The disclosure forms are reviewed by ethics officials, including an official at the Alaska Department of Law, to determine whether the gifts are appropriate or not.
The forms have not yet been filed for the recent trip to South Korea, said Angela Hull, a public records specialist in Walker’s office. The cost of that trip to Asia is not yet available.
Walker’s office said the governor has allowed a foreign government and foreign entity to pay his way because he’s “trying to be mindful of limiting state spending.”
Walker said there’s no chance the travel payments will influence him or potential negotiations over gas contracts.
“To be clear, it was not the market that sponsored either trip,” said Katie Marquette, Walker’s press secretary.