Alaska News Nightly: June 30, 2011

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Parnell Plans Aggressive Push for ANWR and APR-A Development

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Governor Parnell announced plans on Thursday to aggressively push oil development on state lands and waters including areas next to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska. In October the state will offer lease sales on 14.7 million acres in the Beaufort Sea and on the North Slope and North Slope foothills. Parnell made his announcement by video-conference to reporters gathered at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C.

Parnell claims the state can move faster than the federal government, and he wants to see leases in areas like the Beaufort Sea’s waters right next to the controversial and off-limits coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan was in D.C. in person, and responded to a reporter’s question of whether the state’s move is a “shot across the bow,” intended to rile up the federal government.

Sullivan says oil companies which drill in state areas could likely reach oil lying beneath ANWR or NPR-A. He says the state reads that to be legal because of the Law of Capture.

Sullivan says directional or sideways drilling into non-state areas would not be allowed.

The three-mile zone next to the Arctic Refuge has been leased before, but none are active and there’s been little development.  Officials said Thursday that back in the 1990s, Conoco drilled a commercial well but didn’t use it to produce.

Sullivan and the Governor say they’re optimistic oil companies will be interested in fresh state leases, but it remains to be seen. ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman says the company doesn’t generally comment on lease sales.

State officials say they’ll keep parts of the Beaufort Sea off limits to protect the Bowhead whales’ migration and calving grounds. Harold Curran, with the North Slope Borough, says he appreciates that. He says in general, the Borough favors onshore drilling over offshore. But he says offshore drilling in state waters is better than offshore in federal waters because it increase the borough’s tax base and is better for the environment:

But environmental groups say there’s no proven technology to clean up an oil spill in icy waters.  The Arctic Program Director with the Wilderness Society, Lois Epstein says there are still too many unknowns about drilling in the Arctic waters, whether it’s state territory or not.

Governor Parnell and DNR Commissioner Sullivan say pushing the lease sales is part of Parnell’s strategy to get more oil in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Seven Fishermen Killed So Far in 2011

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

The death of two Yakutat residents last week brings to seven the number of commercial fishermen killed this year in Alaska – and the season is just getting started.

The fact that all seven lost their lives in open boats – and all were wearing life jackets — has caught the attention of agencies involved in marine safety. There is consensus that it’s time for renewed focus on safety training for the small-boat fleet.

Judge Upholds Threatened Status of Polar Bears

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A judge on Thursday ruled the federal government was correct in listing the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008 because of global warming. The state of Alaska was suing to remove protections for the bear. At the same time, the Center for Biological Diversity was suing to increase the bear’s status–to endangered. Kassie Siegel with the CBD calls the ruling “mixed.” She wishes the judge had ruled in favor of the endangered listing, but was glad he wasn’t swayed by the state’s argument.

Siegel says since the polar bear was listed as threatened in 2008, the animal’s plight has gotten much worse. She says the center may appeal the ruling.

The state argued the threatened listing was speculative, because it relied on forecasts of habitat loss due to climate change.

Dan Sullivan was Attorney General when the state first filed the lawsuit. Now he is Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, but he offered a quick response to the ruling today.

The Department of Law says it’s reviewing the 116-page decision and considering whether to appeal.

Parnell Accused of Targeting Budget Cuts at Lower Kuskokwim District

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

Bethel Representative Bob Herron says that his region was hit particularly hard by Governor Sean Parnell’s veto pen. According to Herron’s office, the Govenor vetoed more money from his house district than in 39 of the 40 house districts in the state. Now he’s wondering what motivated the Governors cuts.

Census Bureau Gives New Insight into Alaska’s Population

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Census figures from 2010 put Alaska’s population at more than 710,000 people. Newly released data indicates growth in all types of households, with the number of gay and lesbian households showing a sharp increase. The number of unmarried-partner and husband and wife households also increased. I spoke with Ingrid Zaruba, with the Department of Labor and Workforce research and analysis section, about changes in the composition of Alaska households.

Park Service Launches Search for Denali Climber

Sue Deyoe, KTNA – Talkeetna

National Park Service climbing rangers on Denali are in the midst of performing their first real search of the 2011 climbing season.  An Austrian climber is missing from high up on Denali and an intense aerial and ground search is underway.

Lumi the Snowy Owl Released in Barrow

Emily Bender, KCAW – Sitka

A snowy owl named Lumi was released back into the wild earlier this week in Barrow. She was found in Yakutat last November and rehabilitated at the Alaskan Raptor Center in Sitka. We have two stories tonight on Lumi’s long journey home.