Alaska News Nightly: January 5, 2012

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Top Oil CEOs Meet With Gov. Parnell In Anchorage

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A meeting characterized as historic took place at the Dena’ina center in Anchorage on Thursday, bringing the top CEOs of ConocoPhillips, BP, Exxon and Governor Parnell together for a first ever meeting to discuss a new approach to building a gasline for getting North Slope gas to market.

BP’s head Robert Dudley was the first to leave the closed door meeting and talk with reporters. Dudley said he was encouraged that economic conditions have changed in world markets. He says the potential to unlock Alaska’s gas for shipping as LNG to Pacific Rim markets is real.

Dudley says moving the gas south to tidewater in Alaska is probably the most economical way to go. The Governor said getting the three companies together is a strong signal to Alaskans that there is serious commitment to getting a gas project going.

The Governor was clear that he is still planning to develop the line within the framework of AGIA- the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. But that is seen as problematic to some. Former Governor Tony Knowles was in attendance. He says he doesn’t think much of AGIA.

But Parnell says AGIA protects Alaskans interests in ensuring there will be take off points for Alaskans to access gas and encourage future exploration. He says incentives, like the $500 million to Transcanada also help advance the line.

The Governor stressed the idea of alignment between the companies. This may take considerable work. Gas from Point Thompson will be important to getting a gasline project developed, but although the state and Exxon have reached a ‘resolution in principle’ in the litigation over developing the field, there is still not an agreement in place with BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips. Also BP and ConocoPhillips had for a time, pursued their own gasline project called Denali, but abandoned it last year from lack of commitments from producers for gas shipments.

ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva said the meetings focused on commercializing North Slope gas and promoting new investment in oil development. Mulva says the companies have committed to working hard throughout 2012 to move forward. He said LNG is the best alternative for Alaska’s gas. He called North Slope gas a challenged resource.

The Governor was careful in his phrasing about where the line should end, saying only that it should be at tidewater. He said he didn’t want to demand a specific site be used, saying economics should drive it. Conocophillps has an LNG facility at Nikiski. There is also the terminal at Valdez and ports in Southcentral at Anchorage and Point McKenzie.

Hawker Says Oil Meeting A Good Beginning

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

One of those in attendance at the meeting was Anchorage Republican Mike Hawker.  He says the event was a good beginning – not a policy meeting.  He says the common message is that the state and the petroleum industry must be partners.  He called the meeting a “mending of fences.”

“There was nothing profoundly announced,  but it was the fact that we do have a relationship re-established with the State of Alaska at the highest levels talking to these captains of industry in an open, very transparent – and really re-establishing a trust between our major industry in this state and the highest levels of government.,” Hawker said.

Hawker says the meeting reflected a positive conversation about the export of North Slope gas to Pacific Rim markets.

Obama Outlines Military Future

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Thursday, President Obama outlined a new approach to America’s military mission.  It calls for a leaner, more mobile fighting force with fewer ground troops, but with investments in new technologies – and a focus on Asia and the Pacific.

Alaska: High On Toxic Releases

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The U-S Environmental Protection Agency today reports that Alaska mining operations account for ninety percent of the toxic chemical releases in the four-state Pacific Northwest Region.

The 2010 Toxic Release Inventory shows a national increase from 2009 of sixteen percent nationwide.  The national trend had been dropping before that.  Regionally, all Northwest states had increases.  Alaska’s increased twenty percent, producing a total of 835-million pounds from thirty-two facilities in the state.

Kelly Huynh is the Toxic Release Inventory’s unit manager at the Seattle regional offices of the E-P-A.  She says Alaska’s toxic releases are the highest of any state in the nation — and there’s no single explanation for why the numbers have increased.

Some of the reasons might be that there’s increased production.  The economy is getting better so people are producing more.  Certainly for the mining industry there’s variations in ore composition which is one of the explanations for the increases there.  There could be changes in production processes.  And sometimes is just a matter of facilities’ finding better methods of calculating the amounts of material they’re releasing to the environment.

According to the report,  the largest source of release is the Red Dog Mine in the Northwest Arctic Borough near Kotzebue – with 777-million pounds of toxics annually going into the air, water and land.

Huynh says her office deals with the total amount of materials released – and does not go into questions of whether the toxic releases are within permit limits or are disposed of properly.  She does not regulate individual sites like the Red Dog.

They talked about changes in production as well as they were talking about changes in their ore composition, which is why their releases increased.  We haven’t talked about each facility to determine why they’ve increased from one year to another.  But for Red Dog that was their basic explanation of why.

Red Dog’s output includes fourteen difference toxic materials including more than 800-thousand pounds of arsenic,  three hundred million pounds of lead compounds and 450-million pounds of zinc compounds.  Other large facilities that release toxic chemicals include the Green’s Creek Mine in Juneau with 47-million pounds of materials,  and the Pogo Mine near Fairbanks with Seven Million pounds.

Mining is not the exclusive source of listed materials reported.   Eilson Air Force Base reported 110-thousand pounds and Fort Wainwright showed 122-thousand pounds of toxic material placed into landfills.

The State’s Department of Environmental Conservation issued a statement pointing out that the federal report was based on reports from various facilities and involved permitted releases into managed facilities or in accidental discharges.

Redistricting Battle Goes To Trial In Fairbanks

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The long battle over redistricting finally goes to trial next week in Fairbanks.  The case involves proposed voter district maps that plaintiffs say are the result of politically motivated design, or gerrymandering.

Right Whale Sighting Unusual For Kodiak Island Waters

Jennifer Canfield, KMXT – Kodiak

Last month, two Kodiak Island sisters were taking photos of humpback whales near their home in Uganik Bay. Beth and Amy Pingree are part of a whale observation and sighting network and they noticed something unusual. They weren’t looking at a humpback. They sent pictures and detailed descriptions to Kate Wynne who is a marine mammal specialist. Wynne identified it as an endangered North Pacific right whale.

Renda Completes Repairs, Heads Towards Nome

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

The Renda is steaming north at 11 knots with the icebreaker Healy close by. The vessels are set to reach the ice edge around noon Friday and break through 390 miles of ice.  The fuel is now expected to make it to Nome on Monday. The delivery was delayed last night because the Renda had to return to Dutch Harbor to repair a faulty valve.

About 10 miles north of port, State Marine Pilot Captain Pete Garay reported a mechanical issue after observing the tanker moving slower than expected in rough weather, averaging around 3 knots.  This afternoon, he checked in from the ship as it was underway again”

The vessels are about four days out, but the oil spill prevention and contingency plans are still not approved.  The DEC is hoping to issue its decision sometime Thursday or Friday. John Kotula is the Manager of the Marine Vessels section for the DEC. He says the agency will issue conditions that require Vitus Marine to have certain equipment and personnel in place. But he says the final decision by regulators and industry partners will be made on scene.

As the pieces come together, Nome is experiencing a record cold snap.  The National Weather Service measured 40 below Thursday morning, the coldest temperature in Nome since January of 1999.  Forecasts for the delivery date call for temperatures as low as 30 below.  Kotula says that’s factored into the plan.

The Coast Guard has begun daily C-130 flights to photograph the vessels and assist with determining ice conditions near Nome.    Plans call for C-130 support during the fueling, plus staging a helicopter on shore. The Coast Guard will have Rear Admiral Thomas Osteboe, the Commander of the Coast Guard in Alaska on scene for a few hours.

Jones Act Contains Provision On Passenger Transportation

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

Last week Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano waived the Jones Act for the Russian tanker Renda so it could transport gasoline from Unalaska to ice-bound Nome.  Among other things, the Jones Act says foreign-flagged vessels can’t transport cargo between U.S. ports. Napolitano got around it by declaring the delivery a matter of national security.

But Wednesday, KUCB reporter Stephanie Joyce discovered another provision of the Jones Act – one that says foreign-flagged vessels can’t transport passengers between U.S. ports.