Alaska News Nightly: July 12, 2010

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Public Buzzes Over BP Rumor
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Financial markets buzzed over the weekend in response to a news account that BP was in the process of raising part of its $20 billion commitment to cover damages caused by the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In an article that did not name any source the Sunday Times of London said part of the money BP needs would come from selling its holdings in Alaska’s rich Prudhoe Bay field.  The Sunday Times also said that the company is in negotiations with Apache Corporation – a 55-year-old oil exploration and development company headquartered in Houston Texas.

The speculation about the negotiations and sale grew Monday to include possibilities that Exxon-Mobil and PetroChina are interested in BP’s Alaska holdings.

Steve Reinhardt, BP’s spokesman for Alaska issues, declined to involve the company in the rumors.

Governor Discusses Spill Response Readiness
Stephanie Joyce, KTOO – Juneau
Governor Sean Parnell and Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig have met with major oil spill response organizations in Alaska to discuss their response readiness, after some Alaska spill and cleanup resources were sent to the Gulf of Mexico.  They say the state is prepared to respond should anything go wrong with Shell’s planned exploratory drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

The governor is not happy that Shell recently decided to put that drilling off for another year, after environmental groups put the pressure on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to deny their drilling permits. Shell’s decision removed that pressure, but Parnell says it also cost Alaska jobs.

The administration’s survey is just one of a number of efforts now underway to re-examine offshore oil and gas drilling.

A seven-member Presidential Commission kicked off a couple of hearings on the Gulf spill this morning in New Orleans.  University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor Fran Ulmer is a member of that commission, and she had some listening sessions last week in Alaska to help her prepare for her work.  Among those she heard from at those meetings was an expert on Alaska’s 1989 Exxon Valdez Spill, who believes that offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean poses risks the State is not prepared to manage.

Appeal to Herbicide Spraying Permit Denied
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
An Anchorage superior court judge has denied an appeal to a permit for herbicide spraying along the Alaska Railroad’s right of way. The permit was challenged by the public advocacy law firm Trustees for Alaska on behalf of the Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the Eklutna Tribe.

Trustees had asked Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Larry Hartig for an adjudicatory hearing and a stay on the permit in June but the request was denied. Trustees then sought an appeal to Superior court in early July. Trustees for Alaska attorney Austin Williams says today the court denied the motion for preliminary injunction.

At issue are the two chemicals used in the herbicide Roundup. The active ingredient is Glyphosate and the second chemical is called Agredex.

Concerns over run off contamination of streams and water bodies along the railroad tracks, impacts to human health for those who live alongside the right of way and over spray on berry picking areas prompted the suit. Williams says Trustees for Alaska will file a request for hearing with the Alaska Supreme Court as early as tomorrow.

Fishermen Safe After Boat Burns
Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak
Four Kodiak fishermen are in good shape after being forced to abandon their burning fishing boat five miles south of Sitkinak Island on Sunday morning. Sitkinak Island is south of Kodiak. The crew was long-lining for halibut when the fire occurred.

Demand for Chum Salmon Rising
Melati Kaye, KFSK – Petersburg
Worldwide demand for Chum salmon is on the rise. Once seen only fit for dog food, the pale fish is showing up filleted and dressed, at restaurant chains across the United States. Melati Kaye of station KFSK in Petersburg talked to some industry professionals to find out why the fish are more valued now and where they else they are showing up.

Land-Selection Bill Issue in Murkowski Campaign
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
The Sealaska lands-selection bill has become an issue in U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s re-election campaign. Primary opponent Joe Miller is attacking the Republican incumbent, saying her bill was crafted in secret and does not respond to regional concerns.

Study Shows Native Alaskans Have Lower Rate of Alcohol Consumption Than Average Adult
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
National data compiled by a federal mental health agency indicates that American Indians and Native Alaskans have a lower rate of alcohol use than do average adult drinkers.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has released results of a study indicating that American Indians and Alaska Natives have under a 44 percent rate of at least one drink a month, compared with a 55 percent rate among adult drinkers on average. The study shows that Alaska Native and American Indians have a higher rate of binge drinking than the national average.

The SAMHSA study also shows that eighteen percent of Alaska Natives and American Indians needed treatment for alcohol or drug use problems in the past year, although only one in eight received treatment at a specialty facility.

The study was developed as part of an initiative to integrate data so that policy makers and service providers can better understand substance abuse patterns and treatment needs in different population groups.  SAMSHA’s study also indicates that American Indian and Alaska Natives substance use rates drop in older age groups, following the general national pattern.

Patterns of substance abuse vary among different segments of society, according to SAMSHA administrator Pamela Hyde.  She says the study helps service providers to design programs that are accepted by the community which are appropriate for individual needs.  The SAMSHA study is based on data gathered from 2004 through 2008.

Memorial Service Held for Coast Guard Crew
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
A memorial service will take place in Sitka tomorrow for three members of a Coast Guard helicopter crew who died last week.

The service will be held at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow at the Coast Guard hangar on Japonski Island. The Coast Guard’s highest ranking officer, Admiral Robert Papp, is scheduled to attend.

Coast Guard Lieutenant Sean Krueger, Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Hoke and Petty Officer 2nd Class Brett Banks died on Wednesday when their helicopter crashed in the water near La Push, Washington.

The survivor of the crash, Lieutenant Lance Leone (lee-OWN-ay), was scheduled to be released from the hospital sometime today, according to Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Nathan Bradshaw, at which point he’ll meet with crash investigators.   Bradshaw says there’s no timeline for the investigation to be complete.