Elwood Brehmer

DNR starts work on North Slope road network

The Department of Natural Resources is trying to take advantage of what it sees as a convergence of fortuitous events to build a network of roads across the western Arctic.

The Arctic Strategic Transportation and Resources, or ASTAR, project hatched out of a series of conversations Gov. Bill Walker had with North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr. late last year about ways the state could support North Slope villages, DNR Commissioner Andy Mack said in a Sept. 12 interview.

Slope producers doing more with less

Alaska’s oil workforce has been hit hard by low prices, yet the companies in the state have managed to buck a longstanding trend and increase production for the last two years. So what gives?

For state Labor Department Economist Neal Fried, the curiosity in the numbers goes back further than when oil prices started tumbling from the $100-plus per barrel plateau in August 2014.

Hilcorp advances plan for cross-Inlet oil pipeline

Hilcorp Energy is moving ahead with its $75 million plan to ship oil across Cook Inlet.

Harvest Alaska, Hilcorp’s pipeline subsidiary, filed applications with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska Sept. 8 requesting approval to expand the Inlet’s pipeline network and ultimately pipe oil from west Inlet facilities to the Andeavor refinery in Nikiski.

The project includes constructing new subsea and onshore pipelines as well as repurposing a cross-Inlet gas pipeline into an oil line to feed the refinery at Nikiski.

Ahtna apologizes to state regulators after $380K fine

Ahtna Inc. leaders admitted the Native corporation’s drilling subsidiary repeatedly failed to comply with state regulators’ demands over several months, but at the same time asked the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to lessen the resulting $380,000 in fines that the corporate officials feel are excessive.

Ahtna CEO Tom Maloney said during a Sept. 21 AOGCC appeal hearing that the company has the “deepest sorrow” for the internal communications failures that led the commission to levy the fines.

Mallott rejects salmon habitat ballot initiative

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott denied an application on Sept. 12 to put a voter initiative on the 2018 statewide ballot that would have tightened the state’s permitting requirements for development projects with the potential to impact salmon streams.

Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar wrote a Sept. 6 letter to Mallott recommending he not certify the initiative because it would strip the Legislature of its power to allocate resources — in this case salmon habitat — and thus violate the Alaska Constitution.

Ballot measure would give greater say to ADFG

Alaska fishing groups concerned about the impacts that large-scale development projects could have on salmon habitat are pushing to reform the state’s permitting requirements through a voter initiative on the 2018 ballot.

Railbelt utilities make progress to pool resources

Leaders of Alaska’s largest electric utilities hope to have a green light from state regulators to form new infrastructure management companies in a little more than a year.

State rejects Point Thomson expansion plan

The Alaska Division of Oil and Gas has denied ExxonMobil’s plan to expand the Point Thomson North Slope gas project because it doesn’t live up to a prior settlement between the state and the company, according to Director Chantal Walsh.

In a detailed six-page letter dated Aug. 29, Walsh wrote to ExxonMobil Alaska Vice President Cory Quarles that the Point Thomson Expansion Project Planning Plan of Development, or POD, is far too vague and offers no commitment that the company will live up to the 2012 Point Thomson Settlement Agreement.

Coast Guard commandant keeps up push for icebreakers

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft has one very clear message: the country needs more icebreakers.

Zukunft reiterated that point time and again during an Aug. 24 speech to members of the Alaska policy nonprofit Commonwealth North in Anchorage.

He recalled a conversation he had with then-National Security Advisor Susan Rice when Rice asked him what President Barack Obama should highlight shortly before the president’s extended trip to Alaska in late August 2015.

Court rules on PFD veto lawsuit

JUNEAU — The Alaska Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Bill Walker acted within his authority in reducing the amount set aside for checks to state residents from Alaska’s oil-wealth fund last year.

The decision, released Aug. 25, affirms a lower court decision that sided with the state in the dispute over Alaska Permanent Fund dividends.

Rodell reflects on Fund at $60B milestone

The Permanent Fund is many things to many Alaskans.

It’s the State of Alaska’s way of transforming finite resources into potentially perpetual wealth.

It’s the source of undoubtedly one of the most popular government programs ever envisioned, the Permanent Fund Dividend.

It’s always a reliable topic for lively debate.

At more than $60 billion, it’s currently worth about $83,000 per Alaskan.

To Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. CEO Angela Rodell, it’s also beautiful.

State to take on permitting for transportation projects; Cooper Landing bypass reconsidered

The Alaska and federal Transportation departments have inked a deal allowing the state to assume permitting responsibility on federally funded projects, which should speed environmental reviews and save government money, according to the agencies’ leaders.

Rare Alaska hearing probes causes for plane crashes

Why, in the technological age, are airworthy planes still being flown into the ground in Alaska?

That was the omnipresent question at the National Transportation Safety Board’s Aug. 17 hearing in Anchorage to further its investigation into the crash of Hageland Aviation Flight 3153 on Oct. 2, 2016, just outside of the Western Alaska village of Togiak.

Permanent Fund Corp. earns 12.6% in FY17

While the State of Alaska is still mired in a damaging cycle of multibillion-dollar budget deficits, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which its biggest financial asset could be doing better.

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. achieved a 12.57 percent return on its namesake Fund during the 2017 fiscal year that ended June 30. The Permanent Fund ended the year with a record value of $59.8 billion.

Draft EIS released for Liberty offshore project

A long-anticipated North Slope oil project took a big step forward Aug. 18 when the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released the draft environmental impact statement for Hilcorp Energy’s proposed offshore Liberty development.

Houston-based Hilcorp and its partners in Liberty — BP and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. subsidiary ASRC Exploration LLC — are planning to construct a 24-acre gravel island in the federally-controlled shallow waters about six miles offshore and just east of Deadhorse in the Beaufort Sea.

State unemployment rate hits five-year high

Alaska seasonally adjusted unemployment rate hit 7 percent in July according to the state Labor Department.

It’s the highest the unemployment rate the state has seen in nearly five years since it was at 7.1 percent in October 2012.

The rate was up 0.2 percentage points from June, up 0.5 for the year and up 0.3 from July of last year.

By comparison, the national adjusted unemployment rate was 4.3 percent in July.

RCA asks state telecoms for broadband coverage plans

State utility regulators are doing their best to live up to a legislative directive to examine broadband coverage in Alaska and providers’ future plans despite not having any authority to do so.

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska issued an Aug. 9 request for companies providing broadband service in the state to answer any or all of two dozen questions the commission has about the current status of broadband infrastructure and what the state could do to help expand coverage, among other things.

ConocoPhillips accepts state terms to obtain leases

ConocoPhillips has agreed to comply with a long list contingencies demanded by Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack to allow the company to control a prized parcel of North Slope oil acreage.

ConocoPhillips Alaska Land Manager John Schell Jr. wrote to Mack in a brief Aug. 11 letter that the company accepts DNR’s terms to expand the Colville River Unit to include 9,100 acres of the now-defunct Tofkat Unit.

AGDC reports progress in attracting interest to gasline

One piece at a time, the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. is putting its plan to sell the $40 billion Alaska LNG Project into action.

The state-owned group currently has a preliminary capacity solicitation for potential customers of the LNG export plan to express their interest in it open through Aug. 31. The “open house” of sorts is geared towards natural gas producers so AGDC can gauge the interest in reserving capacity on the proposed project’s gas pipeline and liquefaction tolling system, corporation officials have said.

Anchorage, railroad settle federal funding fight

The Municipality of Anchorage and Alaska Railroad Corp. appear to be back on good terms.

Railroad CEO Bill O’Leary said in an Aug. 9 interview that the state-owned railroad reached an agreement last week with Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s administration to settle a multi-year dispute over how annual federal transportation grant funds are split between the two and get millions of dollars flowing into Alaska again.

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