Elwood Brehmer

Health care consumes three-fourths of budget supplemental

At $67.3 million in General Fund requests, the 2017 fiscal year supplemental budget is among the smallest in recent years, but this year’s ask is dominated by a cost that is straining nearly every sector of Alaska, and that is health care.

Less $15 million for wildfire suppression — a retroactive payment that varies greatly by amount but is an annual request — health care-related appropriations comprise $40.8 million, or 78 percent of the 2017 supplemental budget.

Not coincidentally, Alaska has the highest health care costs in the nation.

Senate puts forth spending cap, annual Fund draw

Senate Republican leaders have put forth their own plan to employ the Permanent Fund for deficit reduction that nearly matches Gov. Bill Walker’s proposal.

The one marked difference is the Senate Majority’s legislation, Senate Bill 70, includes a $4.1 billion spending limit on unrestricted General Fund appropriations for the annual operating budget.

ConocoPhillips reviewing state decision to rescind unit expansion

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack has rescinded approval to expand the Colville River oil and gas unit to include sought-after North Slope leases held by ConocoPhillips’ after the company backed off from a plan to drill the acreage.

Mack issued the determination Feb. 17, which conditionally reverses his Nov. 4, 2016, decision to add 9,146 acres over 22 leases to the Colville River Unit.

Legislature continues digging in to oil tax changes

The House Resources Committee is in its second consecutive year of analyzing the state’s oil tax system with Zapruder film-like scrutiny as the Democrats now leading the committee look to implement tax changes former House and Senate Republican leaders balked at last year.

Debate on House Bill 111, the proposal introduced by Resource co-chairs Reps. Geran Tarr and Andy Josephson, both Anchorage Democrats, has not ramped up yet.

State agency will work to keep graphite refinery in Alaska

The state infrastructure bank is partnering with a junior graphite mining company in an effort to keep Alaska’s natural resources in state a little longer.

A memorandum of understanding, or MOU, signed Feb. 7 by leaders of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and Graphite One Resources Inc. aims to find a suitable site for a value-added graphite processing facility in conjunction with the mine the company is working to develop.

Alyeska: tug concerns a result of incomplete information

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. remains confident in the ability of the incoming fleet of oil tanker escort tugs to continue safe operations out of the Valdez marine terminal in spite of vessel design concerns raised by a third-party naval architect.

Alyeska spokeswoman Michelle Egan said many of the potential performance shortcomings identified by marine engineer Robert Allan were due to a simple lack of timely and detailed information about the tug designs.

Northern Dynasty calls critical report ‘misleading’

The owners of the Pebble mine project fired back Friday against claims from a New York stock investment firm that the prospect is not economically or politically viable.

Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. called the Feb. 14 report from Kerrisdale Capital Management — which holds a short position in Northern Dynasty and could benefit from its stock value dropping — “unfounded” and “unsupported speculation.”

AGDC board hears project cost dropping

There is a $102 million spending plan for Alaska’s gasline projects.

The Alaska Gasline Development Corp. board of directors unanimously approved the budget at its Feb. 9 meeting in Anchorage. The plan would exhaust the state’s two gasline funds over the next 18 months or so.

The board also heard from AGDC President Keith Meyer that cost estimates for the Alaska LNG Project — regularly characterized in the past as $45 billion to $65 billion — are dropping.

2016 ends with $911M profit for Alaska Air

Alaska Air Group Inc. turned a $911 million profit in 2016, extending its streak of record annual earnings to seven years while also closing the purchase of one of its primary West Coast competitors during the busy year.

The Seattle-based parent to Alaska Airlines and regional carrier Horizon Air reported record fourth quarter 2016 and year-end net income of $193 million and $911 million, respectively, in its annual earnings report released Feb. 8.

Report: Pebble shares are ‘worthless’

A New York investment firm tore apart claims by the owners of the Pebble mine project that developing the prospect is economically viable in a no-holds-barred report released Feb. 14.

Port Authority resurfaces seeking Valdez route

The Alaska Gasline Port Authority wants federal regulators and state proponents of a large natural gas pipeline project to remember Valdez still wants a second pipeline.

The authority, or AGPA, filed 52 pages of comments Feb. 9 with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission petitioning the agency to at a minimum thoroughly vet the option of routing the Alaska LNG Project to terminate near Valdez, with the hope Valdez would be selected as the best option at the end of the environmental impact statement, or EIS, process.

Alaska Railroad to cut 49 positions, lay off 31

In-state economics have combined with world market forces to push the Alaska Railroad to again cut its workforce.

The state-owned Alaska Railroad Corp. announced Friday it would be eliminating 49 positions as part of an internal restructuring effort to save $5.7 million, according to President and CEO Bill O’Leary.

The cuts will result in 31 direct layoffs and the elimination of 18 positions that were left unfilled in 2016, a railroad press release states, and save an estimated $4.7 million annually.

AGDC board approves $102M spending plan for gasline projects

There is a $102 million spending plan for Alaska’s gasline projects.

The Alaska Gasline Development Corp. board of directors unanimously approved the budget at its Thursday meeting in Anchorage. The plan would exhaust the state’s two gasline funds over the next 18 months or so.

The $102 million is what remains from previous appropriations to advance the Alaska LNG Project, a $45 billion export effort, and the smaller Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline project, or ASAP, which is a backup line focused on getting natural gas to in-state customers.

House Resources bill would raise oil taxes, curtail credits

Oil and gas taxes have made their anticipated appearance in Juneau.

Anchorage Democrats and House Resource Committee Co-chairs Reps. Geran Tarr and Andy Josephson laid out their plan to correct what they see as a major imbalance in the state’s oil and gas tax credit program given the sub-$65 per barrel price regime oil markets have been mired in for more than two years.

The tension that Alaska’s ever-present oil tax debate carries spilled over to the bill’s initial introduction and committee referral during the Wednesday House floor session.

Groundhog Day in Juneau over Permanent Fund

It’s Groundhog Day for Permanent Fund hearings.

The House Finance Committee took up Gov. Bill Walker’s Alaska Permanent Fund Protection Act for the first time of this session on Feb. 2, but it was far from the first time in the last year legislators have been briefed on it.

The bill is virtually identical to Senate Bill 128, the Permanent Fund bill that same House committee voted down 5-6 last June after it passed the Senate 14-5 with broad support from the overwhelming Republican majority.

Graphite prospect near Nome holds big potential

There is ample development potential in Alaska’s lone graphite prospect, according to a preliminary economic report on the mine venture.

The Graphite Creek flake graphite deposit near Nome is being pursued by Vancouver-based Graphite One Resources. A preliminary economic assessment of the resource and Graphite One’s plans to extract and process it found the project could have a value to investors of more than $1 billion and a payback period of just four years.

AEDC: business confidence fall tied to legislative inaction

Anchorage is in for another tough year economically as businesses continue adjusting to the sudden and wholesale change in the city’s dominant oil industry that happened in 2014.

The Anchorage Economic Development Corp. is projecting its city will lose 2,200 jobs in 2017 on top of the estimated 2,700 jobs Anchorage employers shed last year. The 2017 projection equates to 1.4 percent of the city’s job market; the 2016 job losses were a 1.7 percent market contraction.

ConocoPhillips saw improvements in last half of 2016, but posts $3.6B loss

ConocoPhillips turned a $115 million profit in Alaska during the last quarter of 2016, but once again lost money overall, according to the company’s latest earnings report published Thursday.

For the fourth quarter at least, relatively higher oil prices helped keep the companywide losses to $35 million as opposed to the $1 billion-plus ConocoPhillips lost in each of the first three quarters of the year.

State nears finish for smaller gasline permits

While much attention has been given to the large Alaska LNG Project in recent months, the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. is closing in on federal permits needed for the state’s smaller plan to access North Slope natural gas.

Final regulatory approval to build the 36-inch Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline project, or ASAP, with an estimated cost of about $10 billion, is still probably about a year away, but that’s not bad considering the timeline to study an Alaska megaproject is usually measured in years and can take closer to a decade.

Anchorage settles with port contractors, MARAD suit ongoing

The Municipality of Anchorage has settled its lawsuit against all the private contractors involved in the bungled and scrapped Port of Anchorage Intermodal Expansion Project, clearing the way for a renewed court showdown with the federal government.

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