Alaska News Nightly: October 12, 2010

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Gold Developers Seek Partner in Donlin Creek Mine
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
Gold developers of the Donlin Creek Gold Mine are now seeking a new set of partners to support their project. With exploration complete, Donlin is now looking to secure a transportation route for their supplies.  Their current plan calls for a new port facility in the Lower Kuskokwim, but they’ll need to secure some land agreement first.

Deepwater Offshore Drilling Can Resume in Gulf of Mexico
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The Obama Administration announced today that deepwater offshore drilling can resume in the Gulf of Mexico – but the decision doesn’t affect Alaska, where shallow water drilling is on hold.

Reaction to the news that the White House is lifting the deepwater moratorium was mixed, with environmentalists calling the move premature in the wake of this year’s Gulf of Mexico BP blowout, which was the largest oil spill in U.S. history.  On the other side drilling advocates say the decision lacks teeth, because of uncertainty in how soon production can go forward.

Alaska’s two Senators both say they want to see Arctic Ocean projects advance.  They were temporarily delayed in the wake of the Gulf spill.

Democratic Senator Mark Begich called Salazar’s announcement “positive” for the oil and gas industry, but said he’s “frustrated” that Alaska was left out of Tuesday’s decision.  Senator Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Energy Committee, said the equivalent of a ‘de-facto moratorium’ still exists in Alaska.  Her spokesman Robert Dillon says they believe the shallow type of drilling sought in Alaska should not be on hold.

Tuesday, Secretary Salazar said that his Department must be aggressive in raising the bar for the oil and gas industry’s safety and environmental practices.  His press secretary Kendra Barkoff has this to say.

Salazar visited Alaska last month to for a town-hall meeting in Barrow and to tour the North Slope oil fields.  He has said he would have to let Shell Oil Company, which wants to drill in the Beaufort Sea, know by early next year if it can move forward, because the company would need to get ready for the summer season. Critics of drilling in the Arctic say not enough research exists about cleaning up oil in icy waters, and fear harming Alaska Native communities’ subsistence harvests like whales.  Proponents say it could bring in money, and oil and gas that could help America be less dependent on foreign oil.

(Part 2 of 2) Arctic Ocean Shipping May Become Reality
Johanna Eurich, APRN Contributor
The ice in the Arctic Ocean has long forbidden shipping and oil exploration. No longer. A record withdrawal of sea ice in 2007 has been followed by similar retreats ever since. The oil industry and shippers have suddenly become far more interested in the new frontiers opening up as the sea ice pulls back. Yesterday, reporter Johanna Eurich brought us a look at impending oil and gas exploration efforts in the Arctic Ocean. Today, she brings us the second part of the series- on shipping in the Arctic.

Social Security Major Issue in Senate Race
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Social Security turns 75-years-old this year, and the venerable program is under attack by some already in Congress and by others hoping for election to that body. Senator Mark Begich and Senate candidate Scott McAdams are both on record as supporting the program.  But as KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer tells us, Senate candidate Joe Miller has another viewpoint.

Health Care Reform Remains a Hot Topic
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
At Monday’s Anchorage Chamber Senate debate, the Senate candidates also tackled the issue of health care reform. Asked if they would support, vote to repeal or modify the new federal health law, the Republican candidates were eager to denounce it. Joe Miller said, it can’t be tolerated.

Lisa Murkowski stressed that she not only voted to oppose the health care plan, but she voted to repeal it. She also said, it’s probably unlikely that it will be possible to repeal it under the current administration. But she said, if it is repealed, change still needs to come.

Murkowski said medical malpractice liability reform and the ability to be able to purchase insurance across state lines are examples.

Democrat Scott McAdams said that the bill’s process was in itself an example of how broken the Washington system is.

McAdams says the unfunded mandate of mandatory coverage troubles him and he said he’d want to take a look at that as part of an effort to improve the law.

The candidates were also asked how they would address the congressional attacks on the Alaska Native Corporation’s involvement in the small business administration’s 8(a) program. Republican Joe Miller says the 8(a) program needs reform.

Senator Murkowski said she has supported and seen the benefits of the 8(a) program for Alaska Natives. She said the benefits are so strong that others outside of it want to know why they can’t get in on the same type of contracting.

Murkowski says she’ll fight Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s attempts to limit ANC involvement in 8a.

Democrat Scott McAdams says he also supports the ANC 8(a) contracting ability and criticized McCaskill’s lack of vision. He said the billions in wealth that distributes through Alaska is important but there are future aspects to also consider.

Contempt Findings Against Stevens’ Prosecutors Lifted
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The prosecutors in the case of the late Senator Ted Stevens have had a contempt finding against them lifted.  U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan blasted three government attorneys back in February of 2009 for missing a deadline to turn over documents to Stevens’ lawyers.  He held them in contempt, but one of the attorneys, Patty Merkamp Stempler, filed a motion to vacate his decision.  The Judge denied that on Tuesday, but he did dismiss the issue.  That’s because the prosecutors did eventually turn over the information to Stevens’ lawyers.

The civil contempt finding that was on the books for the past year is separate from a criminal investigation going on into the conduct of the Stevens case prosecutors.

Stevens was convicted two years ago of failing to disclose gifts on Senate financial forms, but six months later the judge threw out his conviction, because prosecutors hadn’t turned over important information to Stevens lawyers that could’ve helped them in their defense.  Judge Sullivan ordered a criminal investigation into what went wrong, the results of which are pending.

Ted Stevens died in a plane crash in southwest Alaska in August, nearly two years after losing a tight Senate re-election bid that came on the heels of his initial conviction.

Hoonah Mill Staying Strong Despite July Fire
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
A massive fire in July that destroyed its mill building and main breakdown saws hasn’t slowed production at Icy Straits Lumber and Milling in Hoonah. Owners Wes and Sue Tyler have used back inventory to do small projects, keeping Icy Straits’ employees at work. As KTOO’s Casey Kelly reports, they remain optimistic that new milling equipment will be running by the end of the year.

Chevron to Sell Cook Inlet Assets
Associated Press
Chevron says it will sell its assets in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.

The Peninsula Clarion reports Chevron announced Tuesday it will sell Cook Inlet assets owned by Union Oil Company of California and Chevron U.S.A. Inc.

The company has interests in 10 offshore platforms.

Chevron also will sell its interests in the Cook Inlet Pipe Line Co. and the Kenai Kachemak Pipeline, LLC.

The company says producing properties will be offered as a single package.

Chevron reports a work force of about 450 employees and contractors in Alaska.