Alaska News Nightly: June 29, 2011

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Parnell Finalizes Operating and Capital Budgets

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

On Wednesday, Governor Sean Parnell finalized the state’s operating and capital projects budgets.

Parnell’s Budget Cuts Were Expected

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Although some areas in the state are bemoaning budget losses, the cuts were not unexpected.  Governor Parnell cited declining oil production as one reason for the cuts, and that decline is spurring inclusion in the budget of money aimed at upgrading infrastructure friendly to oil development.

One of those projects affects Anaktuvuk Pass. The budget includes $8 million for a road to Umiat that will affect the remote community. The road will provide access to mining leases. Anaktuvuk Pass Mayor Esther Hugo has been outspoken in opposing the road.

Despite Parnell’s stated objective to fill up Trans-Alaska Pipeline System with millions of gallons of crude a day,  REAP, or Renewable Energy Alaska Project, director Chris Rose says he’s pleased with the inclusion in the budget of funds aimed at renewable energy projects.

Rose says two other important programs also were fully funded – the emerging energy technology fund and the new revolving loan program which allows commercial entities to borrow money to do energy efficiency projects.

Doug Griffen, city manager in Palmer was also pleased with Governor Parnell’s budget decisions. He says the Matanusaka Valley city avoided all vetoes.

Griffen says a couple of Palmer requests for funding did not even make it into the original budget.

Alaskans Asked for Feedback on Chukchi Oil Spill Impact Plan

Jake Neher, KBRW – Barrow

Federal leasing officials are again asking Alaskans to provide feedback on a document that looks at the possible impacts of a very large oil spill in the Chukchi Sea.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, or BOEMRE will hold a public meeting in Anchorage Wednesday night as part of a statewide tour of seven communities.

Study Show New Details on Declining Oil

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A study released today lays out new details on an old problem: declining oil throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Alyeska Pipeline Service Company conducted the study to learn more about how the pipeline will operate if the amount of oil continues to decline in the years ahead. Right now, about 600,000 barrels are flowing through the pipeline each day. Alyeska communications director Michelle Egan says when that amount drops below 550,000 barrels per day, the company will have to take measures to keep the oil warmer:

“There become problems with water dropping out, wax building up in the pipe and at very low levels, potential frost heaves that could damage the pipe.”

Alyeska is already testing different types of insulation it might use to prevent the oil from getting too cold. Another heating tactic the company pioneered during a shutdown last winter was running the oil back through each pump station. Egan says this study looked at mitigation measures that could work as long as the oil flow was above 350,000 barrels per day. She says below that level, things get more challenging.

“As we go from 600,000 lower, every year, every drop increases the complexity and the problems compound. And when you get to 350,000 it would take very extensive measures and it needs a lot more study.”

Alyeska says it will take about 10 years to reach that level at the current rate of decline. Egan says the best solution is to add more oil to the pipeline. She says the mitigation measures to keep the oil moving at low flow rates will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Environmental groups say that’s a small figure compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of oil that’s still in the ground on the North Slope.

New Subsistence Restrictions on Kuskokwim River

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

Subsistence users on the Kuskowkwim River are facing a new series of unprecedented restrictions.  The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is calling for the-first-of-its-kind net restriction on the Kuskwokwim. The poor King run there is also exposing divisions between state and federal fisheries managers.

Research Team Searches Amchitka for Nuclear Contamination

Jacob Resneck, KUCB – Unalaska

A research team is on the western Aleutian Island of Amchitka looking for residual contamination from a 20th century military legacy that culminated in three underground nuclear tests.

Superintendent Comeau Reflects on Career After Retirement Announcement

Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau announced Tuesday she is retiring in one year.

Comeau made the announcement flanked by school board members and district staff. While there were some comments about the replacement process, Comeau spent most of the time offering reflections and observations on an educational career spanning well over three decades.