Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell and a group of gas producers have reached an agreement to begin commercializing North Slope natural gas resources within the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act.

The dispute erupted seven years ago when the state began pulling leases it believed energy companies held for too long without developing. The Thomson Point leases are seen as critical to the fortunes of a gas pipeline, long-sought by Alaskans as a way to shore up revenues amid declining oil production, create jobs, and provide a reliable source of energy. The agreement, announced on Friday, clears the way for progress on the pipeline project.

Four companies, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, BP PLC and TransCanada Pipeline, will work together on the large-scale liquefied natural gas project, capable of overseas exports, as an alternative to a pipeline through Alberta, Canada, that would serve North America.

"Commercializing Alaska natural gas resources will not be easy. There are many challenges and issues that must be resolved, and we cannot do it alone," CEOs of ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP wrote in a joint letter to Alaska Governor Sean Parnell. "Unprecedented commitments of capital for gas development require competitive and stable fiscal terms with the State of Alaska first be established."

The inducement act was passed under former Gov. Sarah Palin as a way to jumpstart a pipeline. At the time, BP and ConocoPhillips had intended to ship gas through Alberta to the Lower 48, but recent shale gas discoveries gave rise to concerns that there could be little demand for Alaska gas in the continental U.S.

In October, Parnell called on Exxon Mobil, BP and ConocoPhillips to unite behind a project that allows for liquefied natural gas exports to the Pacific Rim if the gas market has truly shifted from the Lower 48.

Alaska's North Slope holds more than 35 trillion cubic feet of discovered natural gas, and Point Thomson is a strategic investment to position Alaska gas commercialization.