Associated Press

Alaska lawmakers preparing for 4th special session this year

Alaska lawmakers are preparing for what will be their fourth special session this year.

The House majority coalition said Gov. Bill Walker plans to convene a special session starting Oct. 23 that will focus on revenue. The coalition said the revenue measure or measures that will be discussed have yet to be disclosed.

A Walker spokesman did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday.

Previous special sessions this year were focused on passing a budget and addressing oil and gas tax credits that political leaders agreed were no longer affordable.

Pence casts tiebreaking vote to open Obamacare repeal debate

WASHINGTON (AP) — With Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie, the Senate voted by a hair Tuesday to start debating Republican legislation to tear down much of the Obama health care law. The vote gives President Donald Trump and GOP leaders a crucial initial victory but launches a weeklong debate promising an uncertain final outcome.

Eni gets approval for Arctic exploration

Federal regulators have conditionally approved exploratory drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea by a subsidiary of an Italian multinational oil and gas company.

Eni US Operating Co. Inc., part of Eni S.p.A., plans to drill four exploration wells from Spy Island, an artificial gravel island in state waters, starting in December.

Groups sue over Trump drilling order

Less than a week after President Donald Trump took steps to put U.S. Arctic and Atlantic waters back in play for offshore drilling, 10 environmental and Alaska Native groups sued May 3 to maintain the ban on oil and gas exploration.

An oil well leaking natural gas on Alaska’s North Slope was successfully plugged by pumping saltwater into the well, according to private and government responders.

The state Department on Environmental Conservation on April 17 said the well operated by BP Exploration Alaska Inc., a subsidiary of BP, was “killed” at 3:35 a.m.

The well is five miles from the airport at Deadhorse. Employees on the morning of April 14 discovered uncontrolled natural gas flowing from the top of a well house, a metal structure that looks like a large box over a well.

Workers get well leak under control

The Latest on a natural gas leak at a well on Alaska’s North Slope (all times local):

9:30 a.m.

Officials say a leak of natural gas at an oil well on Alaska’s North Slope has been plugged.

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Candice Bressler says the well operated by BP Exploration Alaska Inc., a subsidiary of BP, was successfully controlled overnight.

BP employees discovered an uncontrolled natural gas leak Friday at a well five miles from the Deadhorse airport.

Legislation filed to require commissioner consensus on Pebble

JUNEAU — A measure intended to add roadblocks for Pebble mine got its first hearing Jan. 31 in the Legislature.

House Bill 14, proposed by Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, would require the Legislature to approve any permitting documents or authorizations for mines within the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve.

Pebble Mine, proposed for the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, is within the reserve.

Speaking to the House Special Committee on Fisheries, Josephson said his goal was to strengthen a ballot initiative passed by voters in 2014.

Consultant raises concerns with state leading AK LNG Project

JUNEAU (AP) — A legislative consultant has raised red flags about Alaska taking the lead on a major proposed liquefied natural gas project, even as Gov. Bill Walker has said he is comfortable with it.

Critics say polar bear recovery plan lacks teeth

ANCHORAGE(AP) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its plan Monday for the recovery of threatened polar bears, acknowledging it will take no direct action for addressing the primary threat — greenhouse gases that contribute to the decline of sea ice habitat.

Polar bears, the first species to be declared threatened or endangered because of climate change, rely on sea ice for hunting seals and raising their young. Climate models project that rising temperatures will continue to diminish sea ice throughout the century.

Warren latest to push for cannabis banking

BOSTON (AP) — As marijuana shops sprout in states that have legalized the drug, they face a critical stumbling block — lack of access to the kind of routine banking services other businesses take for granted.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, is leading an effort to make sure vendors working with legal marijuana businesses, from chemists who test marijuana for harmful substances to firms that provide security, don’t have their banking services taken away.

British Columbia to clean up mine near Juneau

JUNEAU — Canadian officials say they will take action to prevent polluted water from a decades-old mine from entering the Taku River, a key source of salmon caught in southeast Alaska.

British Columbia Ministry of Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett told CoastAlaska News experts will explore different options, including plugging leaking tunnels from the defunct Tulsequah Chief Mine. The acidic water has been carrying pollutants into the Tulsequah River, which is a tributary of the Taku near Juneau.

Demolition begins on shuttered North Pole refinery

The company that owns the shuttered North Pole refinery has begun its demolition.

The decision by Flint Hills Resources to tear down refining facilities ends modest hope that a buyer could resume operations, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Flint Hills spokesman Jeff Cook in a prepared statement Wednesday said no buyer was found.

"With no parties interested in purchasing and operating the refinery, the prudent step is to demolish the refinery to best protect the site and repurpose the site for productive future use," he said.

SEC probing Exxon response to cheaper oil

NEW YORK (AP) — Securities regulators are investigating why Exxon Mobil Corp. hasn't written down the value of assets during the plunge in oil prices that started in mid-2014, according to a published report.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the Securities and Exchange Commission is also looking into Exxon's calculations for asset values in an atmosphere of tougher climate-change regulations.

The newspaper cited people familiar with the matter.

Alaska Legislature passes operating budget

JUNEAU (AP) — The Latest on action by the Alaska Legislature during the special session (all times local):

4:10 p.m.

The Alaska Legislature has approved a compromise state operating budget, the timing of which was aimed at preventing layoff warnings from being sent to state employees Wednesday.

House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise late Monday that addresses a number of issues that were important to minority House Democrats. Support from the minority was needed in the House to access a reserve fund to cover costs not covered by revenue.

US rig count drops 9 this week to 406, another all-time low

HOUSTON (AP) — The number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. dropped by nine this week to 406, another all-time low amid depressed energy prices.

A year ago, 888 rigs were active.

Houston oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. said Friday 328 rigs sought oil and 86 explored for natural gas. One was listed as miscellaneous.

Among major oil- and gas-producing states, Texas declined by seven rigs, Louisiana was down three and North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming each fell by one.

New Mexico gained two rigs and California one.

Latest oil tax bill would phase out most credits by 2020

JUNEAU (AP) — Most current oil and gas tax credits in Alaska would be phased out by 2020 under a draft rewrite of legislation pending in the House Rules Committee.

The draft has yet to be formally introduced or heard by the committee, which took possession of the bill after a prior version appeared destined to fail on the House floor.

Resolution on credits is seen as key to making progress on the budget and revenue measures as the Legislature continues working in extended session.

Alternate meeting sites being weighed as session continues

JUNEAU (AP) — Lawmakers planned to tour potential alternate meeting sites Monday as the extended session continued and the deadline for being out of the state Capitol approached.

The Capitol effectively will need to be cleared out by next Monday under the current schedule for the building's renovation.

Lawmakers have been meeting in extended session after the House was unable to reach agreement on an oil and gas tax credit bill.

Senate Majority Leader John Coghill had said the noise was expected to ratchet up over the weekend, making the building unwelcoming.

Divided committee advances amended bill limiting state employee raises

JUNEAU (AP) — A divided state House committee has advanced legislation that would tie state employee merit increases to increases in oil prices.

The rewrite of the HB 379 that moved from the House Finance Committee Saturday calls for no merit increases until the average price per barrel for North Slope oil for the preceding fiscal year is at least $60. At that point, employees would get a portion of the 3.25-percent raises. The portion would increase when oil hits $70 and $80. The pay restrictions would be lifted when oil averages $90 for a full year.

Congress split over F-35 funds for Eielson Air Force Base

FAIRBANKS (AP) — The U.S. House and Senate are divided over how much construction funding the Eielson Air Force Base should receive to prepare for two new squadrons of F-35 fighter jets.

A Senate subcommittee approved $295 million Wednesday for construction during the 2017 fiscal year. A House committee voted to reduce funding by $82.3 million, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (http://bit.ly/22yLtsD).

Alaska Senate approves criminal justice overhaul bill

JUNEAU (AP) — With just days left in the legislative session, the state House is set to consider a bill that would make sweeping changes to Alaska's criminal justice system.

The state Senate on Saturday approved a measure that moves away from tough-on-crime programs that have been a staple of Alaska's criminal sentencing structure since it gained statehood.

"I think you can call this a little bit of a paradigm shift, if that's what you want to call it," bill sponsor Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said before the vote. "That means a lot of things are going to change."

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