Elwood Brehmer

Permanent Fund Corp. earns 12.6% in FY17

While the State of Alaska is still mired in a damaging cycle of multibillion-dollar budget deficits, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which its biggest financial asset could be doing better.

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. achieved a 12.57 percent return on its namesake Fund during the 2017 fiscal year that ended June 30. The Permanent Fund ended the year with a record value of $59.8 billion.

Draft EIS released for Liberty offshore project

A long-anticipated North Slope oil project took a big step forward Aug. 18 when the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released the draft environmental impact statement for Hilcorp Energy’s proposed offshore Liberty development.

Houston-based Hilcorp and its partners in Liberty — BP and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. subsidiary ASRC Exploration LLC — are planning to construct a 24-acre gravel island in the federally-controlled shallow waters about six miles offshore and just east of Deadhorse in the Beaufort Sea.

State unemployment rate hits five-year high

Alaska seasonally adjusted unemployment rate hit 7 percent in July according to the state Labor Department.

It’s the highest the unemployment rate the state has seen in nearly five years since it was at 7.1 percent in October 2012.

The rate was up 0.2 percentage points from June, up 0.5 for the year and up 0.3 from July of last year.

By comparison, the national adjusted unemployment rate was 4.3 percent in July.

RCA asks state telecoms for broadband coverage plans

State utility regulators are doing their best to live up to a legislative directive to examine broadband coverage in Alaska and providers’ future plans despite not having any authority to do so.

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska issued an Aug. 9 request for companies providing broadband service in the state to answer any or all of two dozen questions the commission has about the current status of broadband infrastructure and what the state could do to help expand coverage, among other things.

ConocoPhillips accepts state terms to obtain leases

ConocoPhillips has agreed to comply with a long list contingencies demanded by Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack to allow the company to control a prized parcel of North Slope oil acreage.

ConocoPhillips Alaska Land Manager John Schell Jr. wrote to Mack in a brief Aug. 11 letter that the company accepts DNR’s terms to expand the Colville River Unit to include 9,100 acres of the now-defunct Tofkat Unit.

AGDC reports progress in attracting interest to gasline

One piece at a time, the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. is putting its plan to sell the $40 billion Alaska LNG Project into action.

The state-owned group currently has a preliminary capacity solicitation for potential customers of the LNG export plan to express their interest in it open through Aug. 31. The “open house” of sorts is geared towards natural gas producers so AGDC can gauge the interest in reserving capacity on the proposed project’s gas pipeline and liquefaction tolling system, corporation officials have said.

Anchorage, railroad settle federal funding fight

The Municipality of Anchorage and Alaska Railroad Corp. appear to be back on good terms.

Railroad CEO Bill O’Leary said in an Aug. 9 interview that the state-owned railroad reached an agreement last week with Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s administration to settle a multi-year dispute over how annual federal transportation grant funds are split between the two and get millions of dollars flowing into Alaska again.

BLM seeks input on opening entire NPR-A to leasing

The Bureau of Land Management wants to know if any more of the nearly 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska should be open to development of its namesake resource.

The Interior Department agency that oversees the NPR-A on the western North Slope is soliciting interest in the roughly 11 million acres former President Barack Obama’s administration made off limits to oil and gas leasing in 2013, according to an Aug. 7 press release from BLM’s Anchorage office.

State gasline corp. gets favorable ruling from IRS

The Alaska Gasline Development Corp. has cleared another of many hurdles in its effort to monetize the state’s North Slope natural gas resources.

The state-owned corporation announced Tuesday morning it qualifies as a federally tax-exempt political subdivision of the State of Alaska, according to a ruling it received from the Internal Revenue Service.

State gives conditions for ConocoPhillips to explore Tofkat leases

ConocoPhillips is on the clock again for North Slope leases it gave up years ago and has spent the better part of the last two trying to get back.

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack issued a decision Aug. 3 giving the oil major another shot at a relatively small piece of sought-after acreage tucked between the company’s large Colville River field and Armstrong Energy’s massive and ever-growing Nanushuk oil discovery.

The catch is ConocoPhillips has until Aug. 14 to agree to Mack’s decision, which comes with a long list of contingencies.

Unpaid credits lead to pause in BlueCrest drilling

BlueCrest Energy Inc. is preparing to pause drilling work at its Cook Inlet oil development because the State of Alaska owes the company about $75 million in refundable tax credits, but CEO Benjamin Johnson said he hopes the hiatus will be short-lived.

Fort Worth, Texas-based BlueCrest is the sole owner and operator of the Cosmopolitan oil project on the edge of the Inlet near Anchor Point on the Kenai Peninsula.

On-time performance dips as Alaska Air integrates Virgin

Alaska Air Group Inc.’s financials are still very strong after turning a $296 million profit in the second quarter, but company executives acknowledge uncharacteristic operational challenges have beset the airline company as it continues to integrate Virgin America into its formerly stellar business.

“To be direct, our operational performance has not met our expectation in the first half of the year, but we’re on the road to recovery now,” said Brad Tilden, CEO of the Seattle-based parent company to Alaska Airlines, regional carrier Horizon Air and of-late Virgin America.

AEDC: Recession extended by inaction

Anchorage Economic Development Corp. CEO Bill Popp believes Alaska’s recession will last another year, due in large part to continued inaction from state lawmakers.

Popp spoke July 26 at AEDC’s annual three-year Anchorage economic forecast presentation.

He said the absence of state fiscal reforms has led to uncertainty from businesses and consumers who don’t know where and at what level taxes or further spending cuts will be levied has artificially slowed economic activity in Anchorage and statewide.

Fireworks fizzle after alleged threat over vote

The political fireworks lit by Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s vote against Senate Republicans’ push to quickly repeal the Affordable Care Act so far appear to have been duds, which could be a good thing for many in Alaska’s resource development industries.

The seemingly odd mix of health care and resource issues was blended July 26 when Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan separately on behalf of President Donald Trump and expressed displeasure with her vote.

CP earns $199M in Alaska but down $3.4B overall

ConocoPhillips netted $199 million in Alaska in the second quarter, but still lost $3.4 billion overall as the oil major continues to reform its operations to be more competitive at lower market prices.

Despite the face value hit to his company’s balance sheet, ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance said in a July 27 statement that substantial progress was made in the second quarter in the ongoing effort to transform the company.

Zinke call has Sullivan ‘very concerned’ after Tuesday vote

(Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a Thursday morning statement from Sen. Murkowski.)

There may be something more in store for Alaska than a critical tweet from President Donald Trump to the state’s senior senator.

On Wednesday morning the president scolded Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Twitter for her Tuesday vote against opening debate in the Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act, writing that she “really let Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!”

Delegation, Walker want new route around Cooper Landing

Alaska’s congressional delegation and Gov. Bill Walker have once again joined forces to fight a federal agency decision, this time demanding a new route be chosen for diverting the Sterling Highway around Cooper Landing.

Walker, Rep. Don Young and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan sent a joint letter July 18 to the secretaries of the Agriculture, Interior and Transportation departments urging them to select an alignment that would take the Sterling Highway farther north of Cooper Landing than the path chosen in December 2015.

Judge denies request for more evidence in $37 million LIO claim

A judge’s decision in the case of a $37 million claim against the Legislature for abandoning its former Downtown Anchorage offices means the final ruling will likely be based on the existing public record.

Alaska Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner denied a motion by the owners of the former Anchorage Legislative Information Office building on Fourth Avenue for a hearing de novo, or a hearing to submit supplemental evidence, because there are still unanswered legal questions in the case.

U.S. House approves King Cove road with bipartisan support

The contentious road out of King Cove is, again, halfway to being built.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed standalone legislation Thursday approving a state-federal land swap to needed to facilitate construction of the 11-mile, single-lane gravel road to complete a 30-mile connection between the Alaska Peninsula communities of King Cove and Cold Bay.

The King Cove Land Exchange Act passed the House by a vote of 248-179 with bipartisan support. It now heads to the Senate.

Former DNR commissioner tapped for high Interior post

Another Alaskan has found a spot in President Donald Trump’s administration.

The president nominated former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash to serve as assistant Interior Department secretary for land and minerals management on Wednesday.

A native of North Pole, Balash is currently chief of staff to Sen. Dan Sullivan, who preceded him as Natural Resources commissioner under former Gov. Sean Parnell. Balash was a deputy DNR commissioner from 2010 to 2013 prior to leading the department until late 2014.

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