AJOC EDITORIAL: Alaska LNG, Pebble and the Cook Inlet fish wars


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With so much happening over the past couple weeks it’s time to clean out the editorial notebook.

First up, there is welcome news on the Alaska LNG Project. State officials have signed a key deal with the big three North Slope producers and pipeline company TransCanada on the framework that can lead to the construction of a large diameter line from Prudhoe Bay to Nikiski.

Apart from the prospect of $2 billion to $3 billion in new revenue to the state from LNG sales, primary among the positives is that the state will be an owner and a partner in this project, but is not obligated to finance its share of the pipeline or market its own gas.

The chief state obligation is for the Legislature to enact durable fiscal terms and approve long-term contracts that will allow the producers and TransCanada to model the economics with certainty for a decades-long effort for construction and operations.

Although there is a risk in any lengthy commitment, the willingness of the state to shoulder some of the risk on this project is essential to move it forward. Some may find this hard to accept, but the producers will not go out of business without Alaska, but Alaska will go out of business without the producers. That doesn’t give the state the strongest hand, but it appears Gov. Sean Parnell has played the cards we do have well.

A true partnership is not about one party getting over on the other, but coming to an arrangement that is mutually beneficial. From this perspective, an agreement that gives the state a significant ownership stake, a seat at the table and no up-front costs for pipeline construction or marketing is a deal worth pursuing.

The market for LNG around the globe is not going anywhere, but the longer Alaska dawdles the more opportunity slips away not only for new state revenues but to finally begin lowering energy costs for our residents.

The sooner terms can be ironed out and the serious business of engineering and design can go forward, the better. Here’s hoping the Legislature does its part to keep the new momentum on this project going.

EPA releases Pebble study

Surprise, surprise, the Environmental Protection Agency declared its hypothetical mining scenario for the Bristol Bay watershed would pose risks to the world’s largest salmon run.

To borrow (and clean up) a popular expression, “No kidding, Sherlock.”

Were millions of dollars and years of work really necessary to figure out that a mine done wrong can damage the environment?

Sen. Mark Begich went on the record shortly after the final assessment was released, saying Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place. Maybe he figures he won’t get the resource extraction industry support in the upcoming election anyway, but backing the EPA’s pseudo-science on Pebble makes his criticisms of this administration on a host of other issues ring hollow.

The groups Begich is aligning with on Pebble are the same ones who say the road through Izembek Refuge is the wrong road in the wrong place. They say the coastal plain of ANWR is the wrong oil field in the wrong place. They say Aleutians Pacific cod is the wrong fishery in the wrong place.

They kept Kensington from opening for 20 years until the case reached the Supreme Court. They tried to stop Red Dog mine from expanding in 2010. They are suing to stop ConocoPhillips from developing CD-5. They have sued and will no doubt sue again to challenge Shell’s efforts to drill in the Arctic.

 Yes, Begich’s position of being in favor of resource development in general while being against Pebble is a common one and is held by many Alaskans, prominent and otherwise. The problem is his party keeps these BANANA types in power (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Never Again) and gives them sway over a host of other issues that ultimately hurt Alaska.

The problem is the EPA and other government agencies routinely use science influenced by politics to make decisions (see Keystone XL), and it’s pretty hard to criticize a bogus decision by Sally Jewell when it comes to the King Cove road while siding with equally bogus science from the EPA on Pebble.

I searched the EPA final assessment looking for a citation to University of Alaska professor Bob Loeffler, who wrote a paper in 2012 for the Institute of Social and Economic Research analyzing whether pre-design risk assessments were valid.

Loeffler compared post-design assessments conducted at Red Dog and Kensington with an assessment conducted by the Nature Conservancy regarding Pebble that, like the EPA, relied on preliminary design plans published by Northern Dynasty.

After taking great pains to note that his paper was in no way intended to assess Pebble itself, Loeffler concluded: “Without data from individual mine design and site configurations, government agencies cannot determine whether mines meet permitting standards … This comparison of post- and pre-design risk assessment in this report shows that the detailed information, about a specific site and a specific mine design, and without knowing the specific prevention and mitigation strategies that will be applied, it is not possible to use ecological risk assessment methodology to evaluate the risks a proposed mine might pose to the environment.

“Specifically, a pre-design ecological risk assessment is a failed methodology for evaluating ecological risks from hard-rock mines in Alaska.”

Surprise, surprise, I did not find a citation to Loeffler’s paper anywhere in the EPA’s final assessment.

Cook Inlet

A more revealing juxtaposition of events Jan. 22 concerning the never-ending battles over salmon in Cook Inlet is hard to imagine.

At noon, the Kenai Chamber of Commerce held a Cook Inlet Fisheries Forum attended by the groups representing processors, commercial drift fleet and setnet fishermen, private anglers and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

In the announcement from the chamber, it stated that Joe Connors of the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance was not able to attend.

Connors was in Anchorage at 11 a.m. giving a press conference about his organization’s newly filed legal appeal to get a ban on Cook Inlet setnetters placed on the ballot after Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell rejected the initiative on Jan. 6 as a prohibited allocation under the state Constitution.

So while diverse and competing stakeholders got together in the city where many of them live and work, another skipped out to further its fish fight in court to eliminate one of those groups on the eve of the Board of Fisheries meeting that begins Jan. 31.

When it comes to who is escalating the so-called fish wars, it doesn’t take recalling Sesame Street to realize one of these groups is not like the others.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at andrew.jensen@alaskajournal.com.

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