Alaska News Nightly: November 8, 2010

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Decisions Regarding Alaska Drilling Expected Soon
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The head of the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling says decisions are coming soon about whether oil companies can drill off Alaska’s coast.  Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, says both the companies and the groups fighting offshore drilling deserve to know what will happen.  Bromwich made his comments Sunday on the C-SPAN interview program “Newsmakers.”

Bromwich says the main concern is how to clean up oil spills in the Arctic, where conditions are dramatically different than in the Gulf of Mexico, site of the BP oil well blowout last April.  Bromwich says icy waters pose unique challenges, as does the Arctic’s remoteness, far from Coast Guard stations and clean-up infrastructure.

After the BP blowout, the Interior Department put on-hold Shell Oil Company’s exploratory wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Bromwich has met with Alaska Native and environmental groups concerned about the affects of offshore drilling, and with the companies who want to operate there.

BOEM will conduct a public hearing on environmental concerns from a 2008 lease sale in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea at 7:00 p.m., Tuesday evening, in Anchorage.

The former Minerals Management Service in February 2008 conducted a lease sale in the Chukchi off Alaska’s northwest coast, receiving high bids totaling $2.7 billion and issuing 487 leases.

Environmental and Alaska Native groups sued and in July a federal court judge said environmental information was lacking.

The BOEM will collect testimony on the effect of natural gas development, on whether missing information was essential, and whether the cost of obtaining the missing information is exorbitant.

In the meantime, Shell launched a new ad campaign in major East coast publications today touting job creation and their spill response plans in the push for Arctic drilling.

Point Hope Leader Disappointed in Shell, North Slope Borough Agreement
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The recent announcement of an agreement between Shell and the North Slope Borough for scientific collaboration on off-shore drilling studies is being met with disappointment by the President of the Native Village of Point Hope, Caroline Cannon.

Cannon says the Point Hope Native government structure has been in place since 1934 and she says leaders have learned a lot about how to tackle the stacks of documents that must be read through before making official comments on emerging arctic plans.

She says the tribe makes an effort to comment on every notice that comes through on Arctic policy.

Presidential Commission Opens Hearings On Gulf Blowout
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
Monday, a Presidential Commission opened two days of hearings on the BP Gulf of Mexico blowout.  They saw a picture of a piece of pipe from the deepwater well site that had literally been sandblasted to shreds by the force of the material coming out of the well.  The Presidential Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling heard its Chief Counsel, Fred Bartlit, reveal his findings about the spill, and quiz executives of BP and its contractors about whether they agreed or disagreed with those findings.   Bartlit says it does not look as if anyone involved with the well was deliberately taking safety risks to save money.

BP and its contractors Halliburton and Trans-Ocean have deep disagreements about what caused the blowout, and Bartlit said one way to get to the bottom of these disagreements would be to have subpoena power to get testimony under oath and be able to cross examine witnesses.  But that’ something the Congress has so far not given the Commission, and its report is due in January.

Halliburton was responsible for the cement that was used to cap the well.  That cement failed – oil, gas and sand came right up through it.  Halliburton contends the cement might have worked better if BP had done more to keep the center part of the well separate from the casing.

Trans-Ocean was the drilling contractor. It is conducting an internal investigation of the incident, and today Trans-Ocean’s Special Projects Director Bill Ambrose shared some of the results – including a picture of the pipe that was not completely pinched off by blow-out preventer – or BOP – located at the wellhead.  He told Bartlit that in a matter of just a couple of minutes it was simply shredded by the force of the material swirling out:

That was Spill Commission Chief Counsel Fred Bartlit questioning Trans-Ocean executive Bill Ambrose.  The hearings continue Tuesday in Washington.

Absentee Ballot Validation Remains Point of Contention Between Miller Campaign, DOE
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC and Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The Division of Elections says Joe Miller’s campaign did not follow the rules and give the Division the name of a contact person, which is why they weren’t notified Friday that the process to validate absentee ballots had begun.  The Division is responding to claims by Miller that the state agency is manipulating the counting process, and keeping important information from him.

Miller’s campaign put out a press release over the weekend complaining that the Division of Elections hadn’t notified him that it had started validating absentee ballots.

But the Division of Elections Division director Gail Fenumiai says Friday is the first time her office heard from Miller’s group about the ballot review process.

Campaigns are required by state law to put forth the name of a contact person for election information.  Miller’s spokesman says they did do that, but the Division of Elections Fenumiai disagrees.

The Division also says there’s a difference between counting absentee ballots, which starts Tuesday, and verifying absentee voter eligibility, which is the process that started late last week. So Miller’s complaint that the counting was unexpectedly moved up is incorrect, according to officials.

Miller has also raised concerns about the state’s decision to move up by 10 days the process to read write-in ballots.  It starts Wednesday. Both his campaign and that of Senator Lisa Murkowski, the other top competitor in the Senate race, are mobilizing volunteers and lawyers to watch the hand-counting.  Miller says the quickened timeline gives him less time to prepare, and the fact that it’s being done in Juneau will make it tough for him to get teams in place.

Alaska Sobriety Movement Pioneer Passes Away
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
A pioneer in the Alaska sobriety movement has passed away.

Ernie Turner died from cancer on October 31st.

Buyers and Sellers Should Use Good Sense When Using the Internet
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
A suspected fraud artist became snared in a trap set by three of her former victims who then contacted the Anchorage Police. Police are now looking for more victims while joining the Better Business Bureau in warning against internet fraud.

When an Anchorage man discovered the Daughtery Concert tickets he purchased on Craigs List were counterfeit, he returned to the website in search of fellow victims. He found two who had also used the same phone number to buy the phoney tickets. Together they combed through Craigs List until they found snowboard bindings for sale with the identical number. They arranged to buy them and when the suspect appeared in a parking lot driving the same car, they notified police.

Twenty-one year old Shanda Barlow of Anchorage is charged with three counts of Forgery 3rd degree and three counts of Theft by Deception. Barlow also had an outstanding warrant for $10,000. Her bail was set at $15,000 with a required third party custodian for release.

Lt. Dave Parker, Anchorage police spokesman, says investigators are looking for more victims.

Board of Game Declines Action on Brown Bear Harvest Proposal
Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan
The State Board of Game on Sunday declined to take action on a proposal that would have modified the allowable harvest for brown bear on Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof islands.

The Alaska Professional Hunters Association submitted the proposal, which would have prohibited ADF&G from counting annual defense of life and property brown bear kills when figuring brown bear harvest caps in unit four.

The association argues that defense of life and property kills increased significantly over the past several years. The proposal states that the increase is often the result of poor garbage management and has little to do with wildlife management related to sport hunting.

The association argues the defense of life and property kills are inappropriately indicating concerns with over-harvest of brown bears by hunters.

Sitka area wildlife biologist Phil Mooney says defense of life and property brown bear kills have remained relatively flat over the last 30 years, averaging about four percent of brown bears taken in unit four annually.

Meanwhile, Mooney says the number of total brown bears harvested in unit four has increased markedly in the past 30 years.

The board declined to take up the unit four brown bear proposal Sunday.

Board member Ben Grussendorf says the board had previously agreed to leave the harvest cap decisions to Fish and Game staff.

The board of game is meeting in Ketchikan through Tuesday, taking up hunting and trapping management proposals for Southeast Alaska.

The board of game also shot down a proposal to shorten the wolf hunting season throughout much of southeast Alaska on Sunday.

The proposal, floated by the defenders of wildlife, sought to shorten the hunting season for wolves by two months.

Right now the wolf hunting season in game management units 1, 3, 4 and 5 runs from Aug. 1 through April 30. The proposal sought to change that to Sept. 1 through March 31.

The Department of Fish and Game recommended the board reject the proposal. The Board of Game unanimously voted it down.

Scientist Claims Link Between Volcanoes and Salmon Harvests
John Ryan – Northwest News Network
How are an erupting volcano and a good salmon season linked?  Don’t know?  Either did we, until Northwest News Network reporter John Ryan found a Canadian scientist who claims that an eruption in the Aleutians can put money in fishermen’s pockets.