Alaska News Nightly: February 12, 2013

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter @aprn.

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Senate Committee Taking On LNG Exporting Issue

Peter Granitz, APRN – Washington DC

The Senate Energy Committee held its first meeting of the new Congress. It wasted no time in discussing one of the most controversial issues the committee will tackle this session – exporting liquefied natural gas.

Some hope exports from the Lower 48 could lead to more exports from Alaska.

Both Shell Drill Rigs Heading For Dry Docks In Asia

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

In the latest setback to Shell’s Arctic drilling plans for this summer, the company says it’s sending both of its drilling rigs to Asia for dry dock repairs. The company says the Noble Discoverer needs an engine overhaul and the Kulluk needs major repairs to its internal electrical systems and hull after running aground near Kodiak on New Year’s Eve. Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith says the Kulluk was damaged inside when seawater came through open hatches, and that the hull was “compromised” in some areas.

“We felt that dry dock in Asia was the best place to really get a good look at the underside of the hull, make a better analysis about the next steps and a timeline for the next steps,” Smith said.

Smith says the company is planning to tow the Kulluk to Dutch Harbor, and then put the rig on a larger heavy lift vessel for the rest of the trip to Asia.  That vessel will pull up next to the Kulluk and dip down into the water to scoop the drill rig up onto its deck.

“So imagine if somebody was floating on the surface of a swimming pool and you went underneath them and were taller than them, of course, and you went underneath them and stood up, at that point they would be on your shoulders or on top of you, and that’s sort of what happens in this dry tow scenario,” Smith said.

For the trip to Dutch Harbor, the Kulluk will be towed by three tugs. Only one tug was towing it during the reverse trip, when its towline parted in rough seas. Smith says the fuel onboard won’t be removed until Dutch Harbor. That troubles environmental activist Rick Steiner. He says he doesn’t understand why the Kulluk’s substantial fuel load hasn’t already been offloaded.

“It’s clearly unacceptable that they would be willing to tow the Kulluk with the 150,000 gallons of fuel on board, along the Alaska Peninsula through Unimak pass over to Dutch Harbor with any kind of a risk of the vessel breaking loose again and grounding or foundering and sinking. They should clearly get the fuel off now, before they take it out of Kiliuda Bay,” Steiner said.

Steiner is also concerned that Shell and the Unified Command haven’t released more information on the condition of the Kulluk. Shell says it hopes the Coast Guard will approve its tow plan in a few days and expects it could have the vessel in Dutch Harbor in about two weeks. He says the company doesn’t know yet how this will affect the 2013 drilling season in the Arctic.

Legislation Defines Medically Necessary Abortions

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Legislation that would limit the circumstances in which public funds can be used to pay for abortions was introduced in the Senate on Monday, and the bill may have trouble standing up to court scrutiny.

Redistricting Board Considering Options

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Alaska’s Redistricting Board met Tuesday in Anchorage to consider its options in the wake of an Alaska Supreme Court ruling requiring a revision of the 2012 redistricting plan. The Court allowed the current plan to be used in only last November’s general election, but has required the Board to redraw the plan so it is in line with the Alaska Constitution.  The Board has filed a motion for a reconsideration.

Seeking Comprehensive Energy Solutions In Rural Southeast

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

It’s no secret that the high cost of energy in rural Alaska is a barrier to economic development and one of the primary reasons many residents are leaving village life behind. In some rural Southeast communities, electric bills are up to 275 percent higher than the national average, and some households spend as much as 50 percent of their income on home heating fuel.

Guess Resigns From Anchorage School Board

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage School Board member Gretchen Guess announced her resignation on Tuesday from the Anchorage School Board, effective March 1.

Chugiak Football Hopes New Helmets Cut Down On Concussions

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

The effects of concussions on football players and ideas on how to prevent them have become a prominent issue in recent years. One Anchorage-area school is taking steps in preventing more traumatic brain injuries in their student-athletes by purchasing new, high-tech helmets.

Top 4 Yukon Quest Mushers Planning For Long Term

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Three of this year’s top four Yukon Quest teams will go on to race in this year’s Iditarod  – Alaska’s “other” long distance sled dog race.  All top four teams are planning long-term Yukon Quest careers for their kennels as well.