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Alaska and Yukon Headlines

What Needs To Be Done To Respond To An Arctic Oil Spill?

Wed, 2014-04-23 13:36

Oil and gas planning areas in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Oil and gas lease areas are shown in
orange, with seismic survey areas shown in gray. Selected oil and gas wells, some in Alaskan state waters and some in federal waters, are shown as purple dots. Some coastal communities and cities are also shown. (Image from the National Research Council)

The National Research Council released a report on what needs to be done in order to be able to respond to oil spills in Arctic waters.

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Environmental groups were quick to respond that so much needs to be done that it would be better to not drill at all.

The report has been a year and a half in the making and involved 14 experts from science and industry and hearings in Alaska and elsewhere. It gets deep into the details of what capabilities and knowledge exist and how limited they are. It deliberately avoids the question of whether to drill or not drill in Arctic waters.

The panel’s chairwoman, New York risk analyst Doctor Martha Grabowski, calls the report balanced, and says it shows many things are needed for oil spill response in the arctic that we do not yet have.

“Increased data needs, more research in terms of countermeasures, better understanding of logistics, operations and co-ordination, and then decision strategies that bring all interested parties to the table in a transparent process,” Grabowski said.

The panel recommends that authorities spill real oil into real Arctic waters to do some real testing of burning and dispersants. Studies in tanks can only go so far, says Mark Myers, research vice chancellor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“To really understand and be best prepared, we’re going to have to do some controlled releases,” Myers said. “Obviously that’s an important decision to make and we recommend a process for doing that.”

“These tests we consider very important; some of the people on the panel had been involved with the earlier tests all the way going back to the 1970s, I believe, and the tests in Europe and Canada, so there’s a lot of experience and a lot of judgment on the committee and there was consensus  that this was an important finding.”

The report says not nearly enough is known about how crude oil degrades in Arctic waters or what it does to the food chain. Myers says some of that has been studied, but not enough.

“A much broader more robust testing program we thought was important,” Myers said. “The work that’s been done up in Barrow is actually quite good, but it’s not as much as we’d like to see, nor is it necessarily enough of the species that we would like to see.”

Two North Slope Borough scientists were included on the panel. Coastal villages are included in the recommendations to have spill response equipment and a trained work-force available.

“Pre-deployment of those assets and budgets to maintain those assets so they don’t diminish over time is an important facet of the report,” Myers said.

The panel urges more cooperation with Russia and that language translators be identified. And it says the Coast Guard has nowhere near what it needs to do its job and has basically been piggybacking on military operations or diverting resources from other programs to support what activities it has conducted to try to be more prepared to oversee Arctic oil and gas and shipping activities.

“The gap between the activities and Coast Guard ability to support its mission for oil spill response and for vessel navigation, the gap is large and it needs to be closed,” Myers said.

Environmental groups were quick to respond to the report. Doctor Chris Krenz of Oceana says it shows our resources to deal with spills are “woefully inadequate.”  Lois Epstein of the Wilderness Society, a petroleum engineer, said it looks as if they won’t have adequate preparation for Arctic offshore spills in our lifetimes, and she would like to have seen some policy conclusions.

“I find that extraordinarily unsatisfying,” Epstein said. “I’m an engineer; I’d like to see technologies used and be effective, and this report says there is no effective technology.”

Epstein put out a press release saying the report should give the industry cause to think twice about whether the payoff of any arctic offshore drilling plans would really be worth the risk.

Sewage lagoons full because of freezing in two Arctic Canadian communites

Wed, 2014-04-23 12:56
Sewage lagoons full because of freezing in two Arctic Canadian communites Winter conditions and community growth take tolls on sewage facilities in Nunavut.April 23, 2014

Ice Wireless makes a pitch for 911 service in northern Canada

Wed, 2014-04-23 12:55
Ice Wireless makes a pitch for 911 service in northern Canada The Inuvik-based telephone company says it would provide better emergency communications than company selected by the Yukon government.April 23, 2014

Fish and Game weakening land-use regulations for Alaska's wildlife refuges, sanctuaries, critical habitat areas

Wed, 2014-04-23 12:53
Fish and Game weakening land-use regulations for Alaska's wildlife refuges, sanctuaries, critical habitat areas Another brazen plan to “streamline” permitting across Alaska is cloaked in secrecy. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is repealing and rewriting every management plan that regulates development in state wildlife refuges, sanctuaries and critical habitat areas.April 23, 2014

Anchorage physician faces charges of $1 million in Medicaid fraud

Wed, 2014-04-23 12:47
Anchorage physician faces charges of $1 million in Medicaid fraud In initial charging documents, Anchorage physician Dr. Shubhranjan Ghosh was charged with roughly $300,000 in alleged Medicaid fraud, but that number has since risen to more than $1 million, a state prosecutor said Wednesday.April 23, 2014

Bat of Ketchikan star leads Edmonds to historic sweep in softball

Wed, 2014-04-23 12:24
Bat of Ketchikan star leads Edmonds to historic sweep in softball Like most freshman, Faith Clark of Ketchikan had to wait her turn when she got to college. Now she's taking advantage. April 23, 2014

Soldier Faces Hearing In Killings Of Iraqi Boys

Wed, 2014-04-23 09:55

There is a preliminary court martial hearing scheduled today in Washington state for Sergeant First Class Michael Barbera, formerly of Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson on murder charges.

Barbera was charged after an expose ran in a Pittsburgh newspaper about the killing of two unarmed teenage boys as they herded cattle in Iraq seven years ago.

Not much has been said about it by the military. The hearing is at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Rescue Helicopter Blows Deflating Raft Ashore

Wed, 2014-04-23 09:52

The Air Force, Coast Guard and Alaska State Troopers have worked together to rescue a man who found himself on a deflating raft in Cook Inlet near Anchorage.

The Coast Guard got a request for help Tuesday evening from troopers who reported the man was in trouble. That agency launched a helicopter crew from Kodiak.

Then the Air Force advised that it had both a plane and a Black Hawk helicopter about five minutes away.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Diana Honings says the Black Hawk crew used the helicopter’s rotor wash to push the man’s deflating raft to shore, where he was met by troopers. They flew him to a hospital for evaluation.

AK Beat: APD issues warrants for 2 after severe Sunday morning beating

Wed, 2014-04-23 08:16
AK Beat: APD issues warrants for 2 after severe Sunday morning beating The Anchorage Police Department has issued arrest warrants for two men it believes responsible for a Sunday morning beating that put another man in critical condition with severe head trauma.April 23, 2014

Sides dig in as Alaska Legislature continues education funding debate

Tue, 2014-04-22 23:27
Sides dig in as Alaska Legislature continues education funding debate The wrangling over Alaska's education funding bill continued on Tuesday in a special committee made up of House and Senate members, who seemed as far apart as ever in the debate over how, and how much, funding to provide Alaska's schools.April 22, 2014

Western Alaska leaders fret over marijuana legalization in rural communities

Tue, 2014-04-22 21:28
Western Alaska leaders fret over marijuana legalization in rural communities Some Western Alaska leaders worry that a proposed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana will place undue burden in already strained rural Alaska villages.April 22, 2014

Hassle over $10,000 highlights need for more Alaska budget transparency

Tue, 2014-04-22 21:13
Hassle over $10,000 highlights need for more Alaska budget transparency In the waning hours of the 2014 legislative session Alaska lawmakers introduced, then reduced, then ultimately eliminated a budget item that would have put up money to "influence the outcome" of a ballot initiative vote. It was the right thing to do, though it highlighted the need for a more transparent budget process.April 22, 2014

Anchorage indoor tennis project loses funding in Juneau

Tue, 2014-04-22 20:33
Anchorage indoor tennis project loses funding in Juneau The back and forth over state funds set aside for a proposed indoor tennis facility in Anchorage has ended. Legislators hashing out the state capital budget have decided to use the remaining $4.4 million for another purpose.April 22, 2014

Superior Court hears arguments over proposed commercial setnet fishing ban

Tue, 2014-04-22 20:26
Superior Court hears arguments over proposed commercial setnet fishing ban The state argued Tuesday that a ballot initiative banning setnetting in Alaska's urban areas is unconstitutional because it involves resource allocation, a matter reserved for the Legislature. Initiative supporters say the measure only targets gear, a common initiative topic.April 22, 2014

Kodiak murder trial: Expert says nail likely punctured tire on road

Tue, 2014-04-22 20:04
Kodiak murder trial: Expert says nail likely punctured tire on road The defense team representing James Michael Wells called upon a tire expert Tuesday to challenge a piece of the government’s theory of how a double homicide on the island of Kodiak took place in April 2012.April 22, 2014

Alaska climber saw dangers of Khumbu Ice Fall before disaster struck on Everest

Tue, 2014-04-22 20:03
Alaska climber saw dangers of Khumbu Ice Fall before disaster struck on Everest Even though Anchorage climber Mike Gordon found the Khumbu Ice Fall "extremely creepy" he kept returning to Mount Everest, hoping to reach the summit.  April 22, 2014

Legislature Still Working To Make Deal On Education Bill

Tue, 2014-04-22 17:46

The Alaska State Legislature is still at an impasse over the Governor’s education bill.

A committee tasked with brokering a deal met for the first time today — about 36 hours after the Legislature blew past its deadline for gaveling out.

The “free conference” committee has the power to rewrite the education bill entirely, and it’s made up of three House representatives and three senators. The House named Anchorage Republican Mike Hawker, Wasilla Republican Lynn Gattis, and Juneau Democrat Sam Kito III as its representatives. The Senate sent Anchorage Republican Kevin Meyer, Mat-Su Republican Mike Dunleavy, and Bethel Democrat Lyman Hoffman.

The group spent the day trying to find places where they could agree. They debated whether students should be able to test out of pottery classes, and whether the state should change the rules on teacher tenure.

But as Committee Chair Mike Hawker laid out, the real question is education funding.

“Probably the largest sticking point between the Senate approach to this legislation and the House approach was the House’s desire to include some element of funding within the [base student allocation] and the Senate’s preference to not put that money in the BSA, but yet to make substantial commitments for the next three years outside of the BSA,” said Hawker, an Anchorage Republican.

When Hawker means by the “base student allocation” is the amount of money a school gets for each child enrolled. That has sat at $5,680 for four years. The House version of the bill adds $185 per student to that formula, and they’ve budgeted about $225 million over three years for that increase along with $30 million in one-time funding for this year. The Senate included even more money — $330 million over three years — in their bill, but they left it outside of the formula.

Education advocates, the state’s biggest teacher’s union, and the Legislature’s Democratic minority have all pushed for putting the money in the BSA, because they believe it gives school districts more security in crafting their budgets. They also believe the proposed education funding boosts don’t go far enough to prevent layoffs, because it’s been years since the Legislature increased the BSA.

Legislative leadership has said whatever compromise they broker should include some money inside the BSA and some out of it.

But when that deal will be brokered is unknown. Committee Chair Mike Hawker said they want to take the time needed to rewrite the bill in a way that makes both chambers happy.

“This is not going to be something that we rush through,” said Hawker. “It will come together really as quickly as we can find consensus in the building over today, tomorrow, or throughout the coming week.”

While the Legislature has already gone two days over their statutory deadline, they can meet for 29 more days without running afoul of the Alaska Constitution.

BP Sells Some North Slope Assets To Hilcorp

Tue, 2014-04-22 17:21

BP announced Tuesday it’s selling some of its assets on the North Slope. The company will sell to aging oil fields – Endicott and Northstar – to Hilcorp, a company that is developing oil and gas wells in Cook Inlet. Hilcorp will also buy a 50 percent interest in two other fields- Milne Point and Liberty.

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Dawn Patience is a spokesperson for BP Alaska. She says the sale is an opportunity for Alaska to bring new partners to the North Slope.

“This is part of BP’s corporate wide view that we are good at managing and operating giant oilfields like Prudhoe Bay and we have a lot of interest in gas value change such as the Alaska LNG project,” Patience said.

Patience says BP is committed to increasing production under Governor Parnell’s oil tax reform, including adding two new rigs at Prudhoe Bay by 2016.

Hilcorp came to Alaska in 2012, and now operates 18 oil fields in Cook Inlet, after acquiring leases from Chevron and Marathon Oil. Lori Nelson manages external affairs for the company in Alaska. She says Hilcorp wasn’t necessarily looking to enter the North Slope.

“The acquisitions that we made in Cook Inlet were kind of a full plate,” Nelson said. ”But when opportunities like this come around, it’s not our timing, it’s the sellers and we were certainly open to that opportunity and here we go again.”

Nelson says the company plans to extend offers to the vast majority of the 250 BP employees associated with the oil fields Hilcorp is buying.

She says the North Slope is a completely different operating area than Cook Inlet, with a separate tax structure. But she says the company is excited by the opportunity.

“Long range we’re aiming to reduce operating costs and extend the field life,” Nelson said. “We certainly intend to increase capital investments in hopes of developing additional oil reserves from the Slope.”

Nelson says venturing on to the North Slope won’t detract from Hilcorp’s assets in Cook Inlet. Both BP and Hilcorp are hoping to close the deal by the end of the year, pending regulatory approval.

BP also announced today it will submit a new development plan for the Liberty field, which Hilcorp will own 50 percent of, by the end of 2014. The company suspended work on the offshore project two years ago because of financial and other concerns. The development is on a man-made gravel island four miles off Alaska’s shore.

Miller Kicks Off Campaign in Wasilla

Tue, 2014-04-22 17:20

Candidate Joe Miller, with family in front row.

U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller kicked off his campaign last night in Wasilla before a few hundred supporters. Miller drew cheers as he hit on popular Tea Party themes, like abolishing the IRS and ending state surveillance. And he may be the only candidate in the race with a personalized country-western anthem.

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“When Alaska needs anything done they say, ‘get Joe to do it. Joe Miller’s the one,’” says the song, written by a fan Miller met in Kansas.

The kick-off included music videos, two live singers and conservative talk show host Lars Larson, who broadcast his nationally syndicated show yesterday from Wasilla. Big Lake Pastor Ethan Hansen led the opening prayer and later told the crowd he likes Miller for three reasons. Among them: ”No. 3: He understands that we need a transformation in our country,”Hansen said.  ”The days are long past when a little tweaking could fix America.”

Joe Miller supporters stand for national anthem.

Miller, a veteran and Yale-educated lawyer, says he’s the true conservative in the race, although his two Republican rivals are also vying for the title. When he took the stage, Miller portrayed government as an oppressive force that robs people of their liberty and impedes success.

“They need to understand that the people have had it,” Miller said. “That’s why you’re here today. This is about ‘we the people.’ It’s not about Joe Miller. It’s about restoring you to your rightful position, where government is the servant and you are the master.”

In 2010, Miller beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the primary election, though she kept her seat by winning the general as a write-in.  Miller didn’t mention the series of damaging revelations that emerged that year, except for a joke about the time a security team guarding Miller handcuffed a journalist after a campaign event. Miller made the aside as he was introducing his four younger children, who were on stage with him in Wasilla.

“They’re all martial arts experts,” Miller said. “We learned that from the 2010 race. We needed in-house security. So I don’t have to bring my handcuffs any more.”

Despite a low campaign profile in recent months, Miller has been raising money. On that score, he’s in third place in the three-way Republican race, but gaining on Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.

APD Implements New Crime-Tracking Systems

Tue, 2014-04-22 17:19

The Anchorage Police Department is using two new systems to communicate with the public about crimes in the city. One is a crime mapping system and the other allows city residents to receive messages directly from the department.

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