Elwood Brehmer

State appeals habitat initiative ruling

The ballot initiative proposed to strengthen laws protecting salmon habitat is headed for a supreme resolution, which doesn’t bother the initiative’s primary sponsor.

On Oct. 20 the state Department of Law appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court to have a Superior Court ruling upholding the initiative on constitutional grounds overturned.

EPA designation for Yukon River complicates gasline plans

Alaska Gasline Development Corp. leaders are worried a special label the Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 office has placed on the Yukon River could challenge construction of both of their pipeline projects.

AGDC Senior Vice President Frank Richards said during the corporation’s Oct. 23 board meeting that the EPA has deemed the Yukon watershed an aquatic resource of national importance, or ARNI, as it relates to the in-state-focused Alaska Standalone Pipeline, or ASAP, and potentially the larger Alaska LNG Project.

ANWR fight far from finish line

Whether Congress opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling rigs could hinge on the fate of President Donald Trump’s tax plan.

The House and Senate have both passed budget resolutions that include provisions to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.

Zinc prices help NANA rebound from oil crash

Strong returns from the Red Dog mine are helping NANA Regional Corp. overcome oil and gas industry losses.

NANA CEO Wayne Westlake said in an interview that the Northwest Alaska zinc mine is outpacing production forecasts at a time when zinc prices are high.

The open-pit Red Dog mine sits about 90 miles north of Kotzebue, the largest community in the region.

NANA, the Alaska Native regional corporation for the area, owns the mine that is operated by Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd.

‘Bioblitz’ turns up no new non-native aquatics

WHITTIER — When on the hunt for invaders, no news is usually good news.

That’s exactly the kind of good news Smithsonian Environmental Research Center scientists were able to report to the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council after a summer-long search in 2016 for non-indigenous species in the waters around Valdez.

ExxonMobil stands by its Point Thomson plan of development

ExxonMobil Alaska leaders insist the company has complied with a 2012 settlement with the State of Alaska over the long-challenged $4 billion Point Thomson North Slope natural gas project and that current state regulators don’t understand the company’s future plans.

ExxonMobil Alaska Production Manager Cory Quarles wrote to Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack on Oct. 12 that the Point Thomson Unit plan of development the company submitted to the department’s Division of Oil and Gas on June 30 is sufficient, despite the division’s claims to the contrary.

Solving deficit in ‘revenue’ session challenged on multiple fronts

Alaska legislators will convene in Juneau Oct. 23 at the behest of Gov. Bill Walker but indications are their time together could be brief.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said his caucus will be in Juneau for the necessary formalities of the 30-day special session but will hold most of its committee meetings in Anchorage.

State still seeking major LNG customer by year-end

The Alaska Gasline Development Corp. won’t be asking for additional funding before the agency knows if it will build the roughly $40 billion Alaska LNG Project, corporation leaders told legislators Oct. 16.

ANWR authorization through budget would avoid filibuster

Republicans in Congress are angling to use the budget process as a means to opening part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development.

The House of Representatives passed House Concurrent Resolution 71 on Oct. 5, which authorizes spending for the 2018 fiscal year and provides general recommendations on spending priorities through 2027. It includes language instructing the House Natural Resources Committee to find ways to generate at least $5 billion in new revenue over the next 10 years as a way to cut the annual deficit.

Judge overturns Mallott on salmon habitat proposal

Alaskans seeking more protections for the state’s salmon notched a victory Oct. 9 when a Superior Court ruling overturned Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott’s denial of a ballot initiative to overhaul permitting laws for projects in and around salmon-bearing waters.

Judge Mark Rindner wrote in a 20-page order that the salmon habitat initiative does not prescribe how countless miles of state rivers and wetlands be used, but rather simply regulates the quality of that water while it is in use.

CEO unveils Pebble 2.0

Pebble Limited Partnership has finally done one of the things it has long been criticized for not doing: the company released an actual mine plan.

CEO Tom Collier discussed the major points of the plan Oct. 5 at a Resource Development Council for Alaska meeting in Anchorage.

Permanent Fund trustees seek inflation-proofing bill

The folks in charge of Alaska’s largest asset made few, but significant, requests of the Legislature at their meeting Sept. 28.

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution directing corporation executives to pursue legislation to strengthen inflation-proofing mechanisms for the corpus of the $61 billion Permanent Fund, and passed motions requesting an exemption from state procurement codes and to add up to 10 new employees to its Juneau headquarters.

First look at Nanushuk released

The details of how Armstrong Energy plans to develop its billion-plus-barrel North Slope Nanushuk oil prospect are now public after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the draft environmental impact statement for the project.

Tucked between ConocoPhillips’ large Alpine and Kuparuk River fields, the Nanushuk project in the Pikka Unit is expected to produce upwards of 120,000 barrels per day of conventional light oil at its peak rate.

Habitat initiative proponents argue appeal in Superior Court

Is there discretion in the term “significant adverse effects?”

That is the question at the center of the court debate over a ballot initiative aimed at reforming Alaska’s permitting laws to better protect salmon habitat from large development projects.

The Department of Law doesn’t think so, and Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar stressed as much during about 90 minutes of oral arguments Oct. 3 in Anchorage for Stand for Salmon’s appeal of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott’s rejection of the initiative, which was based on a Department of Law recommendation.

Walker talks special session in Anchorage

Gov. Bill Walker is making one last push for his plan to end the state’s ongoing multibillion-dollar budget deficits.

On Sept. 20 Walker released a proposal for what members of his administration describe as a capped 1.5 percent payroll tax; others have called it a modified head tax.

On Sept. 22 he formalized the prospect of a special legislative session to address the state’s finances starting Oct. 23 that he previously told legislators to expect when he signed a proclamation making it official.

State loses another court fight over Roadless Rule

The courts have not been kind to the State of Alaska when it comes to the Roadless Rule.

Federal District Court Judge for the District of Columbia Richard Leon threw out the state’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sept. 20, ruling the conservation regulation enacted more than 15 years ago was properly promulgated.

Multiple state administrations and Alaska’s congressional delegation have fought against implementation of the Roadless Rule in Alaska, contending the Clinton-era regulation has severely damaged Southeast Alaska’s once robust timber industry.

Progress for Interior gas project with supply contract

Interior Energy Project leaders can finally see the light from a small, blue flame at the end of the tunnel.

Gene Therriault, the former Fairbanks-area state senator who of late has led the project to expand natural gas availability in his hometown, outlined the terms of the key natural gas supply contract Pentex Alaska Natural Gas Co. recently secured with Hilcorp Alaska to underpin the whole operation during the Sept. 21 Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority board meeting.

Valdez tug transition on track, Alyeska official says

WHITTIER — The major move to a new oil tanker escort firm in Valdez is going well according to Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. managers.

“All the vessels, based on schedule analysis and the visits we make to the shipyards, are on schedule,” said Mike Day, the manager of Alyeska Ship Escort/Response Vessel Systems, or SERVS.

Day reported to the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council board of directors at its Sept. 14 meeting in Whittier on the progress of the SERVS operator transition from Crowley Maritime to Edison Chouest Offshore.

State works to formalize method for assessing oil and gas properties

Some of the affected parties are raising concerns as state tax assessors are finalizing a methodology for valuing oil and gas properties other than the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System for the first time.

Alaska Petroleum Property Assessor Jim Greeley said in an interview that the way the state currently assess values for oil and gas properties isn’t new; it’s been phased in over the last five years.

However, the means for assessing the industry’s often complex and extremely expensive infrastructure has never been spelled out in state regulations, according to Greeley.

Report recommends improvements for ferry system

Insulating the state ferry system from annual political battles is one of the biggest things lawmakers can do to improve its operating efficiencies, according to a draft report released Sept. 13.

The Alaska Marine Highway System Reform Initiative draft report highlights the potential benefits the system could obtain from being converted into a public corporation as well as being forward funded by the state Legislature.

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