Elwood Brehmer

More Nanushuk exploration set with $15M test well

A consortium of small oil explorers is ready to test the extent of a suddenly attractive North Slope oil formation. The state Division of Oil and Gas approved Great Bear Petroleum’s plan to drill the Winx-1 exploration well Dec. 14. Anchorage-based independent Great Bear is partnered with Australian explorers 88 Energy, Red Emperor Resources and Otto Energy to drill the well estimated to cost roughly $15 million, according to company filings with the state. The Winx-1 well will be 13 miles due south of the Village of Nuiqsut and about 5 miles east of the Horseshoe well and sidetrack Armstrong Energy drilled into the shallow Nanushuk formation in early 2017. The Horseshoe well extended the prospective Nanushuk formation play more than 20 miles south of the Pikka Unit — in which Spanish major Repsol also holds a significant position — and Armstrong estimates holds roughly 1.2 billion barrels of primarily Nanushuk-sourced oil. CEO Bill Armstrong said when the Horseshoe results were announced that the well is a strong indicator that the Nanushuk resource in the area could be double what is known in the Pikka Unit. Oil Search Ltd. is now developing the Pikka Unit. Slope geologists generally believe the Nanushuk prospect to be a western Slope phenomenon and exploratory drilling has mostly been west of the initial discovery at Pikka. However, 3-D seismic data indicates the area where the Winx well will be drilled could hold 400 million barrels of Nanushuk oil, according to a prior 88 Energy release. The work schedule approved by the Division of Oil and Gas calls for the companies to build ice roads and pads to the drill site through January, with drilling to start in mid-February. Great Bear Chief Commercial Officer Pat Galvin said in a brief interview that the work is on schedule and is being managed by wholly-owned 88 Energy subsidiary Captivate Alaska LLC. Work will wrap up in late April or along with the end of the Slope ice season. Plans are to drill Winx-1 to 12,000 feet using Nordic-Calista Services Nordic No. 3 rig. Armstrong said the Nanushuk oil his company encountered to the north was primarily less than 5,000 feet deep. “The Nanushuk is the primary target and there isn’t a plan to test other zones but sometimes you hit things you don’t expect,” Galvin said. Great Bear and 88 Energy are also continuing work on separate projects along the Dalton Highway south of the developed area of the North Slope. Galvin said Great Bear is preparing to test its Alkaid-1 well drilled in 2015 later this winter. The well is looking for conventional oil targets, he added. Great Bear had previously been focused on unconventional oil prospects on the southern flank of the Slope. 88 Energy is finished with testing its unconventional Icewine-2 well on the southern Slope, which targeted the HRZ shale formation. A late December project update from 88 Energy Director David Wall said the company is working with consultant Baker Hughes and the U.S. Geological Survey on new hydraulic fracturing testing methods to evaluate its wells. While they are small oil companies, 88 Energy and Great Bear hold significant positions on the Slope. Combined, they have an interest in more than 650,000 acres, most of which is along the Dalton Highway south of Deadhorse, where they have focused on unconventional oil exploration. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

OMB director: Budget must match revenues

Alaskans should expect a balanced state budget next year, at least as long as Donna Arduin has a say in it. The new Office of Management and Budget director said she wouldn’t be doing her job if she didn’t draft a budget to present to the Legislature that matched revenue expectations. The alternative would mean relying on speculative income growth or require future government cuts; that’s work she doesn’t plan to leave on the table. “I don’t believe in budgeting towards hoping revenues go up,” Arduin said in a Dec. 28 interview. “The budget should be steady and predictable, so we shouldn’t budget hoping that we’re going to get more revenues next year.” The $5.7 billion fiscal year 2020 general fund budget proposal Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s administration released Dec. 14 — mostly crafted by former Gov. Bill Walker’s team as often happens when state leadership changes hands — is projected to result in a deficit of more than $1.6 billion after a roughly $300 million deficit this year. By the numbers, the current fiscal 2019 budget is very similar to the 2020 placeholder plan. The single biggest difference is a much larger Permanent Fund dividend appropriation in the 2020 proposal, which, coupled with an lower oil price forecast from the Department of Revenue, adds up to $1.6 billion more in spending than the state is likely to collect over the year. The 2020 fiscal year begins July 1. Shortly before leaving office Walker released his budget as balanced, but that was based on a $75 per barrel average oil price forecast; a number derived in October when Alaska North Slope crude prices averaged $80.02 per barrel, according to the state Tax Division. New Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman curbed the $75 per barrel projection to a $64 per barrel average for 2020 as prices for Alaska crude, which is priced to the international Brent benchmark, have retreated to the mid-$50s. Dunleavy is ardently averse to new or higher taxes and dedicated to paying statutory formula-based Permanent Fund dividend that would collectively be about $920 million more than the latest PFD payout of $1.02 billion, according to OMB documents. That means reducing government spending by $1.6 billion — or 28 percent of a $5.7 billion budget — in other areas is pretty much the only remaining option. On the prospect of making those spending cuts, Arduin said, “If you don’t do them this year you’re going to have to do them next year. It doesn’t get any easier.” Legislators have found spending cuts of that size unworkable in recent years following several years of cuts totaling more than $3 billion, as state budgets have stabilized roughly at the current level over the past three fiscal years. Several recent annual deficits were so large there was little expectation the gap would be closed in a single year, and the Legislature drew down some $14 billion from state savings accounts in order to cover the gaps. The vast majority of the structural budget gap was filled last spring when legislators approved Walker’s landmark legislation to establish a 5.25 percent of market value endowment-style draw from the Permanent Fund, while additionally setting dividends below the statutorily calculated amount. Making those tough spending decisions is nothing new to Arduin. The conservative budget fixer has led the crafting of budgets for Republican governors in Michigan, New York, Florida and California over the past 25 years in addition to consulting roles for other Republican politicians across the country. Arduin agreed to join the Dunleavy administration because transforming state spending plans “is what I enjoy doing,” she said. “I enjoy the challenge and working with fiscally conservative governors to make sure that — in most state it’s taxpayers; here it’s dividend recipients and hopefully not future taxpayers — are first and foremost at every policy table and every policy discussion,” Arduin explained. Alaska’s budget structurally isn’t all that different from other states, she said, aside from the fact that most of the revenue comes from oil and other obvious differences such as the PFD. Arduin, who arrived from her home state of Michigan in late November, said she has received great help from OMB staff and other administration officials. The Office of Management and Budget now includes the administrative services directors who were who apart of 13 executive branch departments. Dunleavy made the staffing change, which Walker’s administration considered but didn’t implement, through a quiet early December administrative order. Those individuals were largely in charge of the department budgets and detailed operations and were moved to OMB “precisely for the reason that we can work through every detail of what the agencies do and know who to talk to within the agencies and how to analyze their functions,” she said. “I have an amazing team at OMB,” Arduin continued. “I was able to recruit — even prior to the inauguration — some of the most talented people around state government and then we moved the (administrative services directors) here so the Budget Office doesn’t look like it did a month ago.” Laura Cramer, a former chief of staff to Finance Committee co-chair Sen. Anna MacKinnon is Arduin’s deputy OMB director. The office is currently conducting a policy driven analyses of everything the state does. She declined to discuss the possibility of major changes to state operations in order to close the gap. Arduin also couldn’t say when the Dunleavy administration would release its first original budget, but it has a Feb. 15 deadline to do so. She reiterated a point the governor has emphasized when asked how she views the Permanent Fund is best utilized. “We need to follow the law,” she said, in reference to the fact that the statutory PFD formula has not yet been changed despite that it hasn’t been followed recently. Arduin later added, “The Permanent Fund is designed to invest and grow. The Constitution and statute tells us which revenues go into the fund and once earnings are realized how much of those earnings can be used and that the first use of those (earnings) is for the statutorily calculated dividend.” The 2020 POMV draw is projected to be roughly $2.9 billion, which would leave about $1 billion available to support government services and pay down the deficit. About $1.7 billion in fund earnings is being used for that this year. The Revenue Department expects nearly $2.2 billion in other unrestricted revenue to be available in fiscal 2020, versus about $2.7 billion in the current year, adding to the expected deficit. On less pressing matters, Arduin said she tries to apply all of her prior experiences across the country to her current work. “We can learn so much from each other. It’s just been very valuable to me having worked in other states where everything is slightly different,” she said. “On the other hand, I can anticipate what may happen in the future based on my experience.” She has had less success anticipating Juneau’s weather, but she’s still warmed to the city. “I love Juneau. I love all the boots that I’ve now acquired,” Arduin joked. “If only someone out there could invent one that converts from rain to snow to ice during the same walk — I enjoy it. The people are nice; the city is charming and it’s beautiful.” ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

New state ferries may face delays entering service

Whether Alaska’s two newest ferries will be put to work next summer remains unknown despite the fact that they both should be ready to go. There are several reasons for the likely delay, but Alaska Marine Highway Executive Director Shirley Marquardt said a primary one is that modifications have not yet been made to the Haines ferry dock that would allow the ferries to be used efficiently. The twin, 280-foot M/V Tazlina and Hubbard “day boats” were built for shuttle service in Lynn Canal and have stern and bow doors to allow for the quickest possible loading and unloading of vehicles and other freight. The original plan was for the two ferries “to feed each other, coming nose-to-nose into the dock at Haines and you basically drive off one and drive on the other and it would go back to Skagway,” Marquardt explained during a joint Dec. 18 meeting of the Marine Transportation Advisory Board and the AMHS Reform Steering Committee. However, challenges accounting for the bulbous bows on the new ferries in the dock design have delayed the project that is being done by another division in the Department of Transportation, she said. A DOT spokesperson did not respons to questions about the Haines dock in time for this story. The $25 million Haines ferry dock would be built mostly with Federal Highway Administration grants and is scheduled for funding in the current and future fiscal years in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. The dock won’t be finished until late next year or early 2020, according to Marquardt. The Tazlina and Hubbard are scheduled to be ready for service when the busy summer AMHS schedule starts May 1, according to DOT. Then-First Lady Donna Walker christened the Tazlina Aug. 11 at Vigor Industrial’s Ketchikan shipyard and work on the Hubbard has followed close behind. Without the modified dock, the day boats, which do not have crew quarters, will struggle to make the round trip from Juneau to Haines-Skagway and back within the U.S. Coast Guard’s 12-hour crew work limit, Marquardt said. Housing the 24-person crews in Haines and Skagway during the peak of the summer season is not seen as a viable option around the daily work limit and it also could complicate scheduling and limit service. AMHS General Manager John Falvey said he has a verbal commitment to a waiver from Coast Guard officials that would allow the day boats to operate 14 hours per day, but that could butt against crew labor agreements. Marquardt added that cuts to the AMHS budget and fleet — notably taking the ferries Chenega and Taku out of service — and changes to its expected route structure over the past 10 years mean the Tazlina and Hubbard generally don’t meet what the system needs in new vessels either. The AMHS operating budget has been cut by about 30 percent over the past five years, adding another layer of challenges to running the already complex system. Without side doors common on other state ferries or crew quarters for extended voyages they are functionally limited to working out of Juneau in northern Lynn Canal. Meanwhile, AMHS is facing a 10-month service gap in Prince William Sound when the M/V Aurora eventually goes to a dry dock for new engines, work Marquardt said has been pushed back a year to 2020 in hopes of finding a solution. She also questioned whether the day boats would be able to go to-and-from Juneau in 12 hours during tough, slower winter conditions even with the proper shore side facilities. “We believe that the optics of tying two new vessels up until they can fulfill their required service needs are far more justifiable than placing two ill-equipped vessels into service,” Marquardt read from a letter to former Gov. Bill Walker about the situation. She is sending the same letter to Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s administration as well. The operational challenges were discovered after Marquardt and other AMHS leaders began assessing from numerous angles what it would take to fold the new ferries into the 10-vessel fleet shortly after she joined the system June 1, she said. Marquardt noted that the day boats were conceptualized at a time when the Juneau Access project to extend the Glacier Highway nearly 50 miles further north of the capital city, which would have shortened the shuttle runs the ferries would make in Lynn Canal. Former Gov. Bill Walker officially decided against the long-debated road extension project estimated at $680 million in July. While the project would increase vehicle capacity in and out of Juneau, its economic viability is an open question among other issues. Dunleavy has supported the Juneau Access project in the past and was critical of Walker’s decision. These types of issues are among those that many AMHS leaders and stakeholders believe can be better addressed if the system is turned into a public corporation, similar to the Alaska Railroad Corp. The general belief is that a state ferry corporation led by a board of apolitical subject matter experts would be better equipped to draft and execute long-term plans to make the system more efficient and hopefully take it out of the Legislature’s annual budget battles. Currently, the AMHS is ostensibly a division of the Department of Transportation immediately overseen by a DOT deputy commissioner, a politically appointed position with high turnover. The structure largely leaves system managers to worry about day-to-day operations while long-term goals shift around them. MTAB chair Robert Venables noted that Dunleavy is the fifth Alaska governor to have a hand in crafting the Tazlina and Hubbard before they have even entered service. Last April the House Transportation Committee introduced a 53-page bill to overhaul the AMHS to the public corporation model. It is expected the legislation will be amended and reintroduced early in 2019 after being reviewed by stakeholders, but who will sponsor it is unclear at this point. In regards to the Tazlina and Hubbard, the consensus solution from AMHS officials is to add side doors and 24 crew berths to the new ferries — stripping them of the “day boat” title but making them immensely more valuable to system operations, Marquardt contends. The upgrades are expected to cost roughly $15 million per vessel, which the system has in its replacement and operating funds, but legislative approval is need to access the money. Because the nearly $60 million has not yet been spent on the docks, the state can instead get much more use out of putting $30 million into the ferries, she insisted. Marquardt inquired about getting approval through the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee while the Hubbard was much earlier in the construction process but was told such a large request should go through the full Legislature, she said, which is what she insisted she wants to do. She expects to talk to administration officials about the situation very soon Marquardt said, noting Walker put the funding authorization requests in his budget that was taken by Dunleavy’s team. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Major projects have permitting milestones ahead in 2019

Environmental reviews are underway on a suite of development projects that could permanently change the face of Alaska. The fate of several of those projects could largely be known by this time next year. It doesn’t get any bigger than the Alaska LNG Project. Estimated to cost roughly $43 billion by the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., it would be one of the largest infrastructure developments in the history of the country and the 18,000 jobs the Labor Department says it could generate by all accounts would send Alaska into a building frenzy. Long term, Alaska LNG is seen as a means not only to monetize the state’s stranded North Slope gas reserves, but also as the key to unlocking economic development in the Interior and other remote regions of the state by providing more affordable natural gas to areas that currently rely on fuel oil for heat and diesel for power generation. Former Gov. Bill Walker, the project’s biggest champion, insists increased access to natural gas could spur the development of other, currently economically challenged resource projects across Alaska, notably Interior mines. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is scheduled to release the first draft of the Alaska LNG environmental impact statement in February, with a self-imposed final EIS deadline coming Nov. 8, 2019. The subsequent deadline for a record of decision on the project is set for Feb. 6, 2020, according to FERC’s schedule. Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy was roundly critical of Walker’s state-led Alaska LNG Project plan during his campaign, but he has mostly been quiet about his plans for the project — particularly on the financing-partner side — since being elected. Regardless, Dunleavy’s administration is expected to continue the federal permitting effort, given FERC approval would be needed for any iteration of an LNG export project. A record of decision is also expected any day for AGDC’s smaller, in-state Alaska Standalone Pipeline, or ASAP, gas project from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. On the North Slope, a couple big projects are in the midst of EIS reviews as are a couple contentious federal land-use plans. The next step for the Nanushuk oil project, now led by Australian-based Oil Search Ltd., is also a record of decision after the Corps issued its final Nanushuk EIS Nov. 2. With the potential to produce upwards of 120,000 barrels per day the Nanushuk project is the largest oil prospect moving towards development in the state. Oil Search Alaska President Keiran Wulff said in November that the company plans to exercise a $450 million option to purchase additional Alaska assets from Armstrong Energy sometime next year. Oil Search bought an operator stake in the Nanushuk project from Armstrong for $400 million in a deal announced in late 2017. First production from the Nanushuk project in the Pikka Unit is scheduled for the end of 2023, according to Wulff. The Bureau of Land Management is in the early stages of drafting an EIS for ConocoPhillips’ $4 billion to $6 billion Willow oil project to the west of Nanushuk in the federal National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. BLM issued a notice of intent for the EIS in August after the company submitted its “Master Development Plan” for Willow. ConocoPhillips estimates Willow could produce upwards of 100,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak; first oil is pegged for the mid-2020s. A timeline for the Willow EIS is not yet available; however, Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has issued a directive to Interior agencies including BLM to have environmental impact statements done within a year. BLM also kicked off the scoping period to begin revising the NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan Nov. 21, a move made with the intent of opening more of the reserve to oil and gas leasing and potential road development. The emergence of the Nanushuk geologic formation as a major oil target across the Slope since the last plan was written, as well as advances in drilling technology make it an appropriate time to rewrite the federal land-use plan, according to Assistant Interior Secretary Joe Balash. The most prospective Nanushuk area, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, is in the northeast portion of the NPR-A around Teshekpuk Lake that was made off-limits to oil and gas leasing in the 2013 plan. Balash said when scoping commenced that rewriting the NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan should take about a year or a little longer. The scoping period for the NPR-A plan is open through Jan. 7. To the east, BLM is busy — or will be when the government shutdown ends — working on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas lease sale EIS. The agency released a draft version of the two-volume, 756-page document Dec. 20 on the eve of the shutdown that started at midnight Dec. 21. The draft EIS offers three leasing scenarios with varying limitations on available acreage and activity timing intended to account for wildlife migrations and local subsistence activities. Each alternative would allow for at least 400,000 acres of the 1.5 million-acre ANWR coastal plain to be open for leasing over multiple lease sales Congress ordered be held before 2025. Interior officials have said they very much want to hold the first ANWR lease sale in late 2019, which would require a completed EIS. Public comments on the draft ANWR EIS are being accepted through Feb. 11. BLM has yet another EIS in the works for a project a ways down the Dalton Highway from the North Slope oil fields. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is leading development of a 211-mile industrial road to access the Ambler mining district, which stretches for about 75 miles along the southern flank of the Brooks Range in the upper Kobuk River drainage. BLM is writing the EIS for the road and the first draft of that document is expected in March 2019, with a final EIS following late next year, based on the current schedule. The $280 million to $380 million limited-access gravel road is seen as the first step towards developing multiple mines in the Ambler mining district, which holds more than 30 known metal deposits; but its remoteness has precluded significant development. Not coincidentally, Trilogy Metals Inc., which for years has been exploring the Ambler district, intends to initiate an EIS for its Arctic copper, zinc and precious metals prospect next year, too, according to CEO Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse. Finally, the long-anticipated draft EIS for the Pebble mine project is expected in January from the Army Corps of Engineers. Corps Pebble project manager Shane McCoy said in a November briefing on the work that the draft EIS will evaluate three development alternatives in addition to the requisite “no-action” option. However, because of the large scope of the project — infrastructure including 35 miles of roads, a subsea natural gas pipeline, a ferry across Iliamna Lake and a major port — the EIS will have multiple “sub-alternatives” for the mine’s support infrastructure, according to McCoy. The draft Pebble EIS will touch on, but not delve into, one of the primary concerns held by those who oppose the project, McCoy said. The Army Corps of Engineers is primarily tasked with adjudicating Pebble’s Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands fill application — a construction permit. As such, evaluating the likelihood of and potential consequences from a mine waste release is not in the Corps’ purview. That is a job for state Dam Safety Program officials and Pebble hasn’t yet applied for its tailings dam permits. However, McCoy said the Corps conducted a cursory review of spill risks given it was a prominent topic in the comments the agency received during the scoping phase of the EIS. “We did convene folks together for a very high-level spill risk scenarios that included the folks from Pebble, the folks from the state as well as AECOM’s specialists, but it’s at a much higher level than what would be required for an actual dam permit,” he said. AECOM is the third-party contractor tasked with compiling the EIS data for the project. A final Pebble EIS is tentatively scheduled for December of next year. Additionally, Pebble Limited Partnership spokesman Mike Heatwole said conducting a preliminary economic assessment for the project is on the company’s “to-do list” but it’s not a pressing matter at this point. Pebble’s opponents have long questioned the economic viability of the mine, particularly the smaller mine plan the company is currently advancing. Pebble CEO Tom Collier told the Journal in April that he wanted to have an economic analysis of the project published sometime in 2018. Attempting to permit a large mine before conducting multiple reviews of its economics is a departure from typical mine development processes. Corps officials have said they would like Pebble to provide them economic information for inclusion in the final EIS, but Heatwole contended it is not a requirement for completing the document.   Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Uncertainty rings in 2019 for Juneau

The forecast is cloudy with a chance of big PFDs. Alaska’s political future has gotten murkier, not clearer, since Election Day despite the fact that Republicans hold a majority of seats in both chambers of the Legislature as well as the governor’s office. The picture is likely to get a little clearer sometime shortly after the morning of Jan. 4 when the Alaska Supreme Court will hear arguments in the disputed House District 1 race between Republican Bart LeBon and Democrat Kathryn Dodge. The Downtown Fairbanks House race has gone from LeBon holding a slim, 79-vote lead immediately after the election to being certified as a tie by the Division of Elections after Thanksgiving to now a one-vote lead for LeBon after a recount and reviews of disputed ballots. Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth upheld the recount results Dec. 21, but his ruling is still subject to a Supreme Court review of the matter. Control of the state House could hang on the Supreme Court’s decision — due by Jan. 14, just a day before the Legislature convenes in Juneau — but only if Republicans can rein in enough members of their own party. House Republicans staked their claim to control of the chamber immediately following the election with a minimum 21-member majority in the 40-seat body with Healy Rep. Dave Talerico as speaker. However, that control relied on LeBon’s victory and each member consistently toeing the caucus line. It fell apart Dec. 8 when Kenai Republican Rep. Gary Knopp announced he would not be a part of a group with no margin for dissention, contending it would be doomed to fail at some point during the legislative session. Knopp is calling for a bipartisan majority that would stay away from partisan policy issues. Staunchly conservative Wasilla Rep. David Eastman regularly broke from other Republicans in votes and was the House’s lone “no” vote on multiple non-controversial matters last year. Republican Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage and Louise Stutes of Kodiak drew the party’s ire by caucusing for the past two years with Democrats in a bipartisan majority. It appears unlikely, though not impossible, that LeDoux and Stutes will join a Republican-only caucus this go-round. Still, House Republicans congratulated LeBon on his District 1 seat victory in a Dec. 22 statement with “Alaska House Majority” letterhead. The release, signed by 19 Republicans including LeBon, states that “The Alaska House Majority remains strong and welcomes Representative-elect LeBon and additional members joining the team to help lead the Alaska State House of Representatives.” Eagle River Republican Sharon Jackson, appointed by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy to fill the District 13 seat left by acting Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom, did not sign the statement but is likely to caucus with the Republican group. It all leads to the strong possibility that control of the House will be up for grabs when the Legislature convenes Jan. 15. In that case, Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer would preside as Speaker pro tempore until a majority of the representatives settled on a leader of their own. Policy debates on tap On the policy side, there are so many permutations of what the final formation of the House could be — and more scenarios if Dodge ends up winning District 1 — that nearly everything seems possible. Legislators of all stripes along with Dunleavy have insisted that improving public safety across the state is a top priority for 2019. Criminal justice changes could be made regardless of the makeup of the House given it is a bipartisan issue, but the prospect of a full repeal of the beleaguered Senate Bill 91 criminal justice reform package passed in 2016 is unclear in all scenarios. Dunleavy’s desire to return Permanent Fund dividend payments to their historical, statutory formula is also a bipartisan proposition throughout the Legislature as well; however whether or not it can make it through the Senate, where Republican leaders have stressed the need to use most of the annual Permanent Fund earnings draw for government services in-lieu of new taxes will be a sticking point. Dunleavy called for a PFD calculated by the statutory formula of roughly $3,000 in the budget proposal he inherited from former Gov. Bill Walker. He declined to include PFD “back payments” from the last three years the dividend was set at lower-than-formula amounts by Walker and legislators, but those appropriations could still be part of Dunleavy’s final budget proposal due in mid-February or a separate bill. An Alaska Supreme Court decision that followed Walker’s 2016 veto of half the PFD appropriation declared that the constitutional power to appropriate, either through a veto or through legislative action, trumps the statutory formula and allows the governor or the Legislature to ignore the formula currently in law. Dunleavy said at a debate in Fairbanks on Oct. 24 that he would have to consider whether to veto the budget if the Legislature sends him one without the PFD amount set according to the statute. The combination of back payments and a 2019 dividend totaling roughly $6,700 per Alaskan has been calculated as about a $4 billion appropriation from the Earnings Reserve Account, which holds the spendable portion of the Permanent Fund. The Earnings Reserve held about $16 billion that could be spent as of Nov. 30, according to the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.’s latest financial statement. However, the fund’s total balance has fallen from nearly $62.3 billion on Nov. 30 to $61.3 billion as of Dec. 20 as financial markets have contracted in recent weeks, according to the APFC. Those losses come out of the Earnings Reserve. Specifically to the budget, the final composition of the House may not have a huge impact on what the final fiscal year 2020 budget looks like if legislators elect to fill a presumed budget deficit from traditional sources. That’s because accessing the state’s remaining savings account, the $1.7 billion Constitutional Budget Reserve, requires a three-quarters vote from each legislative chamber, meaning the ruling majority would have to make budget compromises to use the CBR, as has been the practice in recent years. Legislators could instead fill the current projected $1.6 billion 2020 deficit — destined to ebb and flow on the size of the budget and oil prices — from the Earnings Reserve through simple majority votes, but that would be the closest thing to-date of a true and oft-dreaded “raid” of the Permanent Fund. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Year in Review: Prices drop, new production, permits for Liberty and ConocoPhillips, tanker transitions in Sound and Inlet

Alaska’s budget got a boost for much of the year, and then oil prices did what they always seem to — the unexpected. For the most part oil prices were on a slow but steady increase in 2018. Alaska North Slope crude went from an average of $66 per barrel in February to more than an $80 per barrel average in October, according to the state Department of Revenue. The consistent increase in value had some market analysts predicting $100 per barrel oil was again in the near future. It led former Gov. Bill Walker’s administration to the conclusion prices would average $76 per barrel for the current 2019 fiscal year, which ends June 30, when they held their annual forecasting session in October. At the time, state officials believed prices would stabilize and average $75 per barrel in 2020 as well. Those price projections would have made for the first balanced state budget since 2012. President Donald Trump’s reapplication of economic sanctions on Iran was expected to keep much of the country’s oil out of world markets, causing a market imbalance that would drive prices upward. However, oil sales waivers in those sanctions to some of Iran’s largest customers meant more oil continued to be available, which sent prices south this fall. By the time Walker’s team had assembled a budget he could present as balanced in late November — an objective that was far out of reach for much of his term — prices had again fallen to the mid-$60 per barrel range. Through much of December ANS crude has hovered just above $60 per barrel. On Dec. 17 the price for Alaska oil fell to $59.22 per barrel, according to the Revenue Department. The Revenue Department is now predicting Alaska oil will average about $68 per barrel in 2019 and $64 per barrel in 2020. 2. GMT-1 starts production, GMT-2 advances ConocoPhillips achieved another accomplishment Oct. 5 when first oil began flowing from its $725 million Greater Mooses Tooth-1 oil project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Production from GMT-1 was not only the culmination of years of work for the company, it also marked the first commercially produced oil to come from federal lands on the North Slope. ConocoPhillips first began permitting the project, which is expected to produce upwards of 30,000 barrels per day at its peak, in 2013. Meanwhile, the company also got good news throughout the year on its similar, but slightly larger, Greater Mooses Tooth-2 project about eight miles away. In late August the Bureau of Land Management issued the final environmental impact statement for GMT-2 and selected ConocoPhillips’ preferred alternative for development approval. That became official Oct. 15 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and BLM issued a joint record of decision formally approving the GMT-2 plan. Company executives quickly sanctioned the more than $1 billion project Oct. 25 so construction could begin this winter. First oil from GMT-2 is expected in late 2021 and peak production estimates have gradually grown to nearly 40,000 barrels per day. The GMT projects not only provide substantial sources of new oil, but they are the start of infrastructure development in the NPR-A that industry, the state and the North Slope Borough hope to continue across much of the 22 million-acre reserve. 3. Liberty EIS completed For much of the year it appeared Hilcorp Energy had a clear path to finally building the long-planned $1.5 billion Liberty manmade island oil project just off the shores of the North Slope. In late August the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved the company’s plan 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 as its preferred option for developing the estimated 330 million barrels of light crude oil at the heart of the project in its final environmental impact statement. Hilcorp Alaska leaders have said the project could produce between 60,000 and 70,000 barrels of oil at its peak. It is planned for a 15- to 20-year production life. A 12-inch, roughly seven-mile, mostly subsea oil pipeline would connect the Liberty Island to onshore oil infrastructure near Deadhorse. Specifically, the pipeline would tie into the Badami oil line, which feeds the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. However, a consortium of five conservation groups filed suit against BOEM in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Dec. 17, contending the agency did not consider the environmental impacts of a possible oil spill from the project, or its potential impacts on endangered species. BP purchased Liberty from Shell in 1996 after Shell discovered the prospect with four exploration wells in the mid-1980s. BP first planned to build an island to develop Liberty but put those plans on hold in 2001 to further study the project, according to the EIS. In 2005 the London-based oil major proposed drilling ultra-extended-reach wells from onshore to eliminate the need for an island and minimize the project’s impacts on Alaska Native subsistence whaling hunts in the area. That plan was scrapped in 2012 and Hilcorp subsequently took over the project in 2014. 4. Cross-Inlet oil pipeline Hilcorp Energy made quick work of a $90 million endeavor to drastically reduce oil tanker traffic in Cook Inlet and shutter the precariously positioned Drift River oil tank terminal on the west side of the Inlet. The company said in May 2017 that it would commence a long-discussed project to turn a cross-Inlet gas pipeline into an oil line, which along with other work, would allow oil produced from west Cook Inlet fields to arrive at the now-Marathon refinery in Nikiski via pipeline instead of by tanker. Hilcorp held a ribbon cutting for the project, which for years was also a goal for the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council Oct. 19 in Kenai. To complete the cross-inlet connection, Hilcorp laid about six miles of new pipe from the Tyonek Platform to the existing west-side pipeline network. The displaced gas will travel through another pipeline that historically carried gas produced from the Tyonek Platform to the now inactive LNG export terminal on the Inlet’s east side. Drift River’s outflow into Cook Inlet is among the few places where the west-side coast has depth to accommodate tankers, but as a location for a crude oil terminal, it has a downside, too; the Drift River tank farm sits in the shadow of the volcanic Mount Redoubt and has been threatened twice by its eruptions. 5. Edison Chouest takes over Valdez tug responsibilities It wasn’t quite a seamless transition, but Edison Chouest Offshore took control of the Ship Escort and Response Vessel System out of Valdez for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. July 1 as scheduled. The Louisiana-based company was selected by Alyeska to take over for Crowley Maritime Services on a 10-year contract in mid-2016. Crowley previously held the SERVS contract since 1990. The new responsibility required Edison Chouest to build 14 new tugs, spill response barges and other vessels and get them manned and ready for service out of the Valdez Marine Terminal in just about two years. Edison vessels were involved in two accidents in training leading up to the official SERVS handoff but neither resulted in injuries or a fuel or oil spill. On June 27 the 105-foot tug Ingot dented the hull of the oil tanker Florida as it helped the tanker dock at the terminal. A couple days later, an unoccupied skiff was crushed between a tugboat and a barge it was hauling. Alyeska was also at odds with the Prince William Sound Citizens’ Advisory Council, which has strongly advocated for conducting tug training exercises in adverse weather and sea conditions up to the point where normal tanker escorts would be stopped. Alyeska officials contend the bad weather training would put tug crews in unnecessary danger, while the council argues it is the only way to know if crews are prepared to handle conditions they will inevitably face.

Year in Review: Donlin, WOTUS, Ambler and Fort Knox

In August, after nearly 25 years of work, Donlin Gold LLC got one thing every major project developer in the country desires: a favorable record of decision from the federal government. In this instance, it came as a first-of-its-kind joint ROD issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the environmental impact statement and by the Bureau of Land Management for the project’s natural gas pipeline right-of-way authorization across federal land. Donlin’s final EIS was published in April; the Corps of Engineers recommended the company’s preferred project plan for approval in its ROD. Later in August the Alaska Department of Fish and Game approved a slew of Title 16 permits for development activity in salmon habitat. Donlin Gold was also one of the primary players in the successful effort to defeat Ballot Measure 1, which would have greatly increased the state’s requirements for obtaining a Title 16 permit and would have seriously challenged development of the mine, especially under its current plan. As envisioned, Donlin would be one of the world’s largest open-pit gold mines, extracting about 33 million ounces of gold over an initial 27-year life. The company is open to partnerships to help build out much of its support infrastructure — including 30 miles of road, ports and a 315-mile gas pipeline from west Cook Inlet to the Kuskokwim River mine site — which could help mitigate some of the high fixed costs the project faces, according to spokesman Kurt Parkan. A 50-50 joint venture between Canadian companies Barrick Gold Corp., the world’s largest gold producer, and NovaGold, Donlin Gold LLC has spent roughly $500 million exploring and permitting the open-pit gold project over nearly 25 years, Parkan said to the Alaska Miners Association in November. Still, that money is not factored into the $6.7 billion estimated construction cost calculated during a 2011 economic study of the project. Parkan said in an interview that the seven-year-old figure is what the company continues to work from; the focus now is on bringing it down. As a result, Donlin’s owners are resistant to putting a definitive timeline on the project, according to Parkan. While Donlin has its federal Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands permit, the BLM right-of-way and a special permit from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, it still needs state approvals that will take several more years to acquire. 2. WOTUS revamped President Donald Trump administration took a big step towards limiting which waters and wetlands the federal government has authority over Dec. 11 when a new, draft version of the waters of the U.S. rule was released. The move is the final step in the Trump administration’s nearly two-year effort to replace an Obama-era version of the rule, oft referred to as WOTUS, finalized in 2015 but challenged in court by 12 states including Alaska. Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Assistant Secretary of the Army R.D. James signed the proposed rule Dec. 11. The Corps of Engineers adjudicates applications for development permits in navigable waterways across the country on behalf of the EPA. The EPA has the final say over regulating development in and around navigable waters through is Clean Water Act authority. The new WOTUS rule covers traditional, large navigable waters and their tributaries that contribute year-round or intermittent flow and wetlands adjacent to other jurisdictional waters. It focuses on wetlands and other areas with surface water connections as falling under federal jurisdiction. The 2015 rule had a broader scope, including areas with subsurface water flow. Development in waters that fall under the Clean Water Act typically require some sort of mitigation or offset to the impacts of the activity, which development proponents often lament as being very costly. The members of Alaska’s congressional delegation welcomed the announcement in statements from their offices. In February 2017 President Donald Trump issued an executive order titled, “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.” That order led to a lengthy public process to repeal the 2015 rule, which concluded earlier this year. The rule had been suspended from taking effect by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Alaska and the other mostly western states that sued to stop it in 2015. 3. Ambler cost drops; permitting on horizon as road advances Early in the year Trilogy Metals CEO Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse said the overall cost to build and operate the company’s proposed copper, zinc and precious metal mine in the Ambler mining district was coming down. By the end of the year Van Nieuwenhuyse was saying the company plans to start permitting the mine in the first half of 2019. The pre-feasibility study for Trilogy’s Arctic deposit was released Feb. 20 with a development cost of $780 million, up about 9 percent from a 2013 estimate. However, a 60 percent drop in expected annual operating and 20 percent decrease in closure and reclamation costs — to about $65 million each — cut the all-in cost for the initial 12-year mine by 5.5 percent from $964 million in 2013 to $911 million today. Trilogy executives said during a call with investors that the drastic drop in operating costs is due to changes in the plan for waste rock and tailings management, fuel and federal tax reform. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is leading development of a 211-mile industrial road to access the mining district. The Bureau of Land Management is writing a separate EIS for the road and the first draft of that document is expected in March 2019, with a final EIS following late next year, based on the current schedule. The National Park Service is also preparing an environmental and economic analysis that is also expected to be finished next spring. At its core, the Arctic prospect is about as good as undeveloped metal deposits come these days, according to Van Nieuwenhuyse. With just more than 43 million metric tons of probable reserves averaging 2.3 percent copper, 3.2 percent zinc and smaller amounts of lead, gold and silver, it’s “about 10 times the average grade being mined in open pit copper mines today,” he said in October. The Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands fill permit from the Corps — large enough to trigger an EIS — is likely the only federal permit the mine will need, according to Van Nieuwenhuyse, noting the Environmental Protection Agency has oversight of the water and air quality permits issued by the State of Alaska. 4. Fort Knox expands Interior business interests got welcome news in June when they heard one of the largest employers in the region should be open for 10 years longer than originally planned. Kinross Gold Corp. announced June 12 that it has decided to move forward with a $100 million expansion to the Fort Knox gold mine about 25 miles northeast of Fairbanks. A feasibility the Toronto-based Kinross conducted on the prospect, known as the Gilmore project, indicates it could yield 1.5 million ounces of gold and initially extend operations at Fort Knox to 2030. Milling at the mine is expected to stop in late 2020 without it, according to Kinross. Now, mining is expected to continue into 2027 with ore processing running to 2030. The mine opened in 1996. Gilmore also increased the proven and probable gold reserves at Fort Knox by 2.1 million ounces to 3.4 million ounces overall, according to a company statement.] CEO J. Paul Robinson said the company will likely be able to fund the $100 million expansion with Fort Knox’s existing cash flow, which will help Kinross maintain financial flexibility. Fort Knox is on land owned by the state Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority; the expansion, known as the Gilmore project, is on a recently acquired 709-acre parcel of state land just to the west of the existing mine pit that was previously held by the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. First gold from the Gilmore project is expected in early 2020.

Draft EIS released for ANWR lease sale

Alaskans got their first look at what oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge might look like exactly one year to the day after Congress ordered the Trump administration to start leasing portions of its coastal plain. On Dec. 20 the Bureau of Land Management released the draft version of the environmental impact statement that will inform what areas of the roughly 1.5 million-acre coastal plain are open to oil and gas leasing and what other sideboards that should be put on oil exploration in the area. The ANWR rider to the Tax Cut and Jobs Act passed last December directs the Interior Department to hold two oil and gas lease sales, each covering at least 400,000 acres of the coastal plain before 2025. It limits permanent development to 2,000 acres of federal land. The Alaska Native village corporation Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. also owns about 92,000 acres around the coastal village of Kaktovik within the refuge, land that would also be open to development. The draft EIS offers three leasing scenarios with varying limitations on available acreage and activity timing intended to account for wildlife migrations and local subsistence activities. The 756-page, two-volume document also includes a “no action” alternative — a part of all environmental impact statements — as a baseline to compare other options against but Assistant Interior Secretary Joe Balash noted in a call with reporters the no action option won’t be chosen because the law mandates lease sales be held. Balash stressed that the input of residents from villages that use the refuge played a big role in how the leasing alternatives were formed, including input from Gwich’in Tribe members who rely on the Porcupine caribou herd as a primary food source and strongly oppose the industry activity. The eastern Alaska-western Canada caribou use large swaths of the coastal plain as calving grounds and what impact oil development could have on the herd has been a primary debate point in the battle over ANWR oil exploration. Exactly how long it will take to finalize the coastal plain EIS is unclear; however, Interior leaders expect to hold the first lease sale sometime in 2019. A 45-day public comment period on the draft is scheduled to commence Dec. 28 when the document is published in the Federal Register. The members of Alaska’s congressional delegation and Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy praised BLM’s work in formal statements. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan said they appreciate the diligence with which the agency built the first draft of the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program EIS. “I am particularly pleased to see the serious and necessary considerations for the Porcupine caribou that migrate through the region, as well as the abundant level of stakeholder input — including from the Alaska Natives in the area, the vast majority of whom support responsible drilling in the 1002 (coastal plain),” Sullivan said. “This draft EIS brings us that much closer to unleashing America’s energy potential, filling up the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, boosting our economy, and providing good jobs for Alaskans, all while protecting the ecosystem in ANWR’s 1002 as we’ve done on the rest of Alaska’s North Slope for over 40 years.” The coastal plain has also been dubbed the “1002 area” for Section 1002 of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which carved out the potential for industry development in the otherwise off-limits 19 million-acre refuge. Dunleavy said the document “is a significant milestone in Alaska’s long journey to responsibly explore and develop the 1002 area in ANWR. The potential oil discovered will spur new jobs and investments for generations to come, extending the life of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.” The least restrictive to development, Alternative B would open the entire 1.5 million acres to leasing. Industry activity restrictions during the Porcupine herd’s May-June calving season would apply to about 585,000 acres mostly in the eastern portion of the coastal plain. Another 360,000 acres — mostly along the coast and major river corridors — would be leasable but with a “no surface occupancy” stipulation prohibiting construction of permanent facilities there. Activity restrictions along the rivers and coast are a theme in all the leasing scenarios. The remaining 618,000 acres would be open to leasing under the program’s general conditions. The Central Arctic caribou typically migrates into the western half of the coastal plain in July and August but calving takes place mostly on state land just to the west of the refuge, according to the EIS. Alternative C would also open the entirety of the coastal plain for leasing but place the no surface occupancy restriction over more than 930,000 acres including the caribou calving area and major river corridors. Timing limitations on industrial activity would be put on another 317,000 acres and about 314,000 acres would be open with general conditions. Finally, Alternative D would place the most restrictions on development activity in order to protect biological and ecological resources, the EIS states. A little more than 1 million acres would be available for leasing; however, permanent oil and gas facilities would be prohibited over 708,000 acres and another 124,000 acres would have other use restrictions. Sub-options to Alternative D would have the remaining roughly 204,000 acres either be open with general conditions or open with timing limitations. Approximately 530,000 acres of primarily Porcupine herd calving grounds would be off-limits to leasing under Alternative D. Exactly what level of interest industry will have in the coastal plain leases is also unknown. The most recent U.S. Geological Survey assessment of the oil and gas underneath the coastal plain, done in 1998, put the mean oil estimate at 7.6 billion barrels for the coastal plain-1002 area. The USGS additionally estimated there is a 5 percent probability the area holds nearly 12 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil, which says noting of the economics of extracting it. SAExploration Inc. has a 3-D seismic survey plan for the coastal plain before Interior officials, but whether or not the plan will be approved in time for work this winter is up in the air. Balash said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the seismic plan for how the work could impact denning polar bears. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Year in Review: Shakeups lead top stories of 2018

Several analogies can be drawn between the Nov. 30 Southcentral earthquake and the year in Alaska politics even without stretching them too far. Earthquakes, even large ones, are an accepted and to a point expected part of life in Alaska. Admittedly, the lead up to the election in the governor’s race was highly unusual. What was for months a three-way race between incumbent Gov. Bill Walker, Mark Begich and Michael J. Dunleavy suddenly shifted to a head-to-head matchup when Walker dropped out of the race with less than three weeks to go following the sudden resignation of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott for unspecified inappropriate comments to a woman. Similarly, even many of Alaska’s most ardent Democrats understand the demographic reality that their state’s politics generally lean red. To that point, Republicans retained a majority of seats in the Legislature as they have for years and Dunleavy’s Election Night victory over Begich — built on a broadly popular campaign of being tough on crime and larger Permanent Fund dividends — was widely predicted. And while the earthquake struck just three days before Dunleavy’s administration was set to take over, the work of former Gov. Walker’s team in concert with Dunleavy’s people made for a smooth transition of power in the midst of a natural disaster. One caveat to that was a request by Dunleavy Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock that upwards of 800 non-union executive branch employees tender their resignations and reapply for jobs with an expressed desire to work in a Dunleavy administration. Such a resignation request is standard procedure for political appointees during an administration change, but the broader scope of Babcock’s demand was met with vocal disdain among many inside and out of government who felt it was a demand for a loyalty pledge. Still, the largely smooth transition under difficult circumstances was a general reflection of how well Alaskans — from well-trained school kids to on-the-ground Department of Transportation personnel — handled the earthquake. Miraculously no one was seriously hurt or killed in the shaking, and damaged roads were repaired with amazing efficiency. However, there is still much left unfinished in the aftermaths of Election and Earthquake day even though life for most Southcentral residents has returned to normal. Severely damaged schools in Eagle River and the Mat-Su Borough remain closed, as to many businesses in Eagle River. Countless homeowners across the region also still face daunting repairs. On the political front, much is still unresolved as well more than six weeks after the election. While Republicans have regained their usual position at the helm of state government, the state House is in disarray. House Republican leaders quickly formed a 21-member majority caucus a day after the election. However, that slim majority fell apart even before it had a chance to take office. For starters, it relied on House District 1 Republican candidate Bart LeBon maintaining his 79-vote Election Night lead over Democrat Kathryn Dodge — which after counting absentee ballots, questioned ballot reviews and a recount has shrunk to a single vote. Dodge, unsurprisingly, is challenging those results in the Alaska Supreme Court. Additionally, Kenai Republican Rep. Gary Knopp said Dec. 8 that he would be withdrawing from the caucus because the tenuous one-vote majority could be held hostage by the whims of any single member and as such was doomed to fail eventually. Knopp instead has proposed a bipartisan House majority caucus comprised evenly of Democrats and Republicans. At the time of this writing, who will be leading the House when the Legislature convenes Jan. 15 is anyone’s guess. Things are more settled on the Senate side, at least structurally. Republicans retained control of the body, despite taking a blow in Republican Senate President Pete Kelly’s defeat to Democrat challenger Rep. Scott Kawasaki for his Fairbanks Senate seat. Senate Republicans are aligned with Dunleavy on many policy items, but the size of future PFDs, at this point, is not one of them. Along with Walker, Senate Majority leaders last year led the charge to utilize Permanent Fund income to pay for government services and greatly reduce the state’s ongoing budget deficits in-lieu of new taxes; however, the consequence was likely reducing the size of future dividends. Dunleavy used the historical dividend formula in his first budget proposal released Dec. 14, but he refrained as yet from requesting “back payments” from three prior years of reduced dividends at least initially, which was one of his campaign pledges. On the surface both politically and physically, much has returned to normal, but many of the all-important underlying details remain unresolved. 2. Voters reject Ballot Measure 1 The intense statewide debate over whether Alaska should enact sweeping changes to its salmon habitat protection laws came to an abrupt end on Election Night, when voters rejected Ballot Measure 1 by nearly a 25-point margin. What started as a promising year for measure backers, who in January submitted more than 42,000 signatures to the Division of Elections from Alaskans supporting the initiative, ended in disappointment. The business-backed campaign group Stand for Alaska drummed up more than $10 million of support, led by contributions from Alaska’s “big three” oil producers as well as Donlin Gold LLC, which is planning a large gold mine in Southwest Alaska. Stand for Alaska painted the issue as an attack on responsible development in the state. Yes for Salmon backers insisted it was a way to update nearly 60-year old anadromous fish habitat permitting laws and prevent politics from influencing permitting decisions that could degrade salmon habitat over time and leave Alaska trying to restore lost habitat at great expense as other Pacific Northwest states are now doing. Each side argued the other was driven by Outside interests; either activists wanting to “lock up” Alaska or corporate interests wanting nothing more than to fleece the state of its resources and leave. In reality, the eight-page measure would have put strict sideboards on impact mitigation requirements for developments in salmon habitat, while establishing a public input process for the permitting decisions and provided Fish and Game officials with more authority to penalize permit violators. Opponents argued the state permitting regime is already sound and that while adjustments may be needed, the initiative was overly broad and would threaten development. In August the Supreme Court struck a key provision of the initiative as unconstitutional that would have mandated the ADFG commissioner reject any permit for which “major” impacts could not be mitigated on site. Ballot Measure 1 proponents, who raised less than $3 million, or about 25 percent of what Stand for Alaska had to spend, said after the election that the funding disparity made it impossible for them to overcome Stand for Alaska’s messaging that included a barrage of television ads. The opponents countered that they had the better message regardless of the funding disparity. 3. North Slope enjoys “renaissance” ConocoPhillips started 2018 by going “six for six” with its exploration drilling program last winter. The company hit commercial quantities of oil in each of the greenfield wells it drilled, drastically adding to what was already a feeling of optimism among those in the oil industry. Three wells were drilled to better delineate its $4 billion to $6 billion Willow discovery — another Nanushuk prospect — which was first announced in January 2017. Preliminary estimates from the company put Willow at about 300 million barrels of recoverable oil, with production potential reaching 100,000 barrels per day. Alaska oil experts believe the Nanushuk formation, which for decades hid in plain sight, is largely a western Slope phenomenon; it quickly peters out to the east of the Colville Delta. ConocoPhillips’ westward push on the North Slope took reached another milestone Aug. 7 when the Bureau of Land Management began asking for public input as it drafts permitting documents for the company’s proposed multibillion-dollar Willow oil development. The remote Willow prospect is west of the existing North Slope oil fields in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. ConocoPhillips’ initial development plan calls for a central processing facility and pad, up to five drilling pads with up to 50 wells each, access roads, an airstrip and a gravel mine within the NPR-A, according to BLM. The proposal also contemplates a temporary island in state waters to facilitate module deliveries via sealift barges. The company sent BLM a letter in May requesting authorization for the development, a BLM release states. In October, oil production commenced from the company’s Greater Mooses Tooth-1 project in the NPR-A. ConocoPhillips also sanctioned GMT-2 and increased the peak production estimate to 38,000 barrels per day. ConocoPhillips has been busy in Alaska — also trading its interest in a North Sea field for BP’s share of the large North Slope Kuparuk River field — but its activity is in addition to several other large developments that are underway. Oil Search’s Nanushuk project, with the potential for 120,000 barrels per day, received a final EIS from the Army Corps of Engineers in November. Hilcorp Energy’s manmade island Liberty project was also approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. It is a 60,000 barrels per day development, although environmental groups sued to stop it on Dec. 17. Rough estimates put the cumulative potential production from these and smaller projects — with $13 billion of investment — at upwards of 400,000 thousand barrels per day. 4. POMV passes Gov. Walker saw his signature piece of legislation passed May 8 when legislators approved an endowment-style formula to draw from the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve with most of the money going to support government. Hailed as a victory for drastically reducing the state’s multibillion-dollar budget deficits while maintaining the long-term value of the $63 billion Permanent Fund by proponents and as a “raid” on the fund by others, the Legislature’s vote on SB 26 cut across all party and caucus lines. At the time, Senate Bill 26 was expected to cut the fiscal 2019 deficit from roughly $2.5 billion to $700 million. Oil prices and production will determine the final budget gap. While each body passed a version of SB 26 in 2017, it languished on the sideline of budget debates for more than a year as the contrasting contingencies put on a POMV draw by the House and Senate made it a particularly touchy subject. SB 26 was the culmination of three years of work by the Walker administration and a handful of legislators, most notably retiring Eagle River Sen. Anna MacKinnon who often sparred with administration officials on other budget issues, but helped shepherd the bill through the Legislature. 5. Oil tax credit resolution faces legal challenge Gov. Walker’s other big legislative victory was supposed to be resolving the state’s $800 million-plus oil and gas tax credit obligation. After contentious debate, the Legislature approved his administration’s unique but untested plan to sell bonds allowing the state to pay them up front while managing cash flow into the future, which is expected to require shoestring budgets for several years. The plan relies on tax credit holders — small oil companies and banks — taking up to a 10 percent discount on the value of their credits to get them paid quicker. The state would turn around and use the discount to cover the cost of borrowing the money. However, questions about the constitutionality of the scheme started early in the session when a Legislative Legal Services attorney issued an opinion suggesting it may fall outside the Alaska Constitution’s tight restrictions on allowing the state to contract debt. Former University of Alaska Regent Eric Forrer put turned legality questions into action shortly after the Legislature passed the plan in House Bill 331 by suing the administration over it. Forrer actually sued before the bill was signed into law, but state attorneys declined to have it dismissed based on the timing issue, acknowledging that Forrer could just re-file the suit. The Superior Court case that many wanted resolved quickly has been slow and winding. A ruling on the state’s initial dismissal motion was expected in early November; however, none has been issued as of this writing. 6. Pebble applies for permits Pebble Limited Partnership finally made good on a long held promise to start the permitting process, which is seen by many as a way to settle the fight over the massive and divisive mining project. The Army Corps of Engineers kicked of the Pebble mine environmental impact statement scoping process last January. Pebble leaders have touted a much smaller mine plan without the use of cyanide for gold recovery, a new transportation plan and revenue sharing payments for area village corporations and tribes as reasons for opponents to reconsider their stance. Bristol Bay Native Corp. and other area opposition groups have been critical of the Corps’ handling of the EIS, which is being done on a two-year timeline for the huge and complex development. In June, Gov. Walker’s administration called for the Corps to suspend the EIS until Pebble offered an economic review of their plan. CEO Tom Collier told the Journal in April that the company was working to develop a preliminary economic assessment on the project by the end of the year, but one has not been published to this point. Pebble backers scored a two-part victory on Election Night when Ballot Measure 1, the salmon habitat initiative, was roundly rejected by Alaska voters and staunchly pro-development Gov. Dunleavy beat former Begich, who has long opposed the mine. 7. Tourism keeps booming More and more people continue to want to come to Alaska. Alaska’s tourism industry continues to record visitor numbers to the state — and more are predicted for 2019. It’s also been one of very few growth sectors in the state’s economy over the past three years. Final numbers for the year are still being tallied, but the total of cruise passengers visiting Alaska was expected to be up 7 percent from the more than 1 million who came to the state in 2017, according to CLIA Alaska. More cruise ships and bringing more people are coming in 2019 as well. According to Travel Alaska, 37 cruise ships will traverse the state’s waters next year. CLIA Alaska says those vessels will carry nearly 1.2 million passengers. Passenger traffic at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport was up 3.1 percent through October, according to airport officials. The growth was 5.3 percent year-over-year in the third quarter. In October, Gov. Bill Walker announced direct passenger service between mainland China and Alaska will begin in 2019. TSAIA Manager Jim Szczesniak said in November that the outlook for 2019 is good as well with daily summer service to New York from United. 8. Roadless Rule reopened Gov. Walker’s administration cracked the Roadless Rule code Alaska loggers and other development interests had been working on for years over the course of 2018. In August, former DNR Commissioner Andy Mack and Interim Forest Service Chief Victoria Christensen signed in a working agreement that laid the foundation for the agencies to revise the Roadless Rule on the likely prospect of reopening more Tongass National Forest land to development of some kind. The August agreement was borne out of a petition sent in January from former Walker’s administration to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting a full exemption from the sweeping Clinton-era Roadless Rule that timber companies in the state blame for crippling their industry. By late November the 13-member Alaska Roadless Rule Citizen Advisory Committee picked by Walker had drafted four general options for revising the conservation measure and a list of recommendations for Forest Service officials to consider in their rewrite of the Tongass Management Plan. Several committee members said they felt their work went well and incorporated input from members who spanned the various Tongass stakeholder groups. The four proposed Roadless Rule options include maintaining all existing inventoried roadless areas, or IRAs, except for those with roads that pre-date the rule; removing previously roaded areas as well as areas identified in the management plan for timber production and others where a modified landscape has been deemed acceptable; removing areas in timber production and modified landscape IRAs identified by conservation groups as critical salmon habitat conservation areas in addition to the other exemptions; and, most broadly, removing all IRAs that are not currently designated with a non-development land-use priority, according to the committee’s report. 9. Rural health care funding fight In May, the Cordova Community Medical Center received a shut-off notice from Alaska Communications for its broadband services unless a balance of nearly $1 million was paid by June 30. Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit V. Pai stepped into the dispute and warned the Anchorage-based telecom provider that it’s against the Communications Act to shut down services. However, the Cordova Hospital wasn’t the entity not paying its bill. At that time, Alaska Communications hadn’t received funding for going on 11 months through an FCC that bridges the high cost of bringing broadband service to rural Alaska, called Rural Health Care, or RHC. The Cordova hospital is just one of about 40 rural health care facilities that Alaska Communications supplies broadband services. Alaska Communications and fellow in-state telecom GCI Liberty were owed millions from the RHC program through the first half of the year. By law, Internet service providers have to serve rural health care clinics at the same cost they give to urban health care clinics, and to make up the difference, they can apply for funding through the RHC program. The catch is that they have to justify the rates they’re charging for rural connections. After an investigation, the FCC found that two non-Alaska carriers were inflating their rural rates to increase their payments from the program in 2017 and fined the companies about $40 million. The agency then requested more information from the participating companies to justify the rural rates they charged. That proved to be an issue for Alaska telecom providers, where Internet connections are notoriously expensive and limited outside urban centers. The FCC announced Oct. 10 that GCI would receive $77.8 million in funding through the program. That’s about $28 million less than the company requested in its cost estimates. GCI objected, saying in an Oct. 12 press release that the reduction from the funding request essentially forces the company to swallow $28 million in services that had already been provided. The FCC emphasized the “fiscal responsibility” of the decision to reduce the funding to GCI in a prepared statement. Alaska Communications previously outlined the difficulties in meeting the information request specifications for the FCC to approve its rural rates. As of mid-October, most of the requests from the providers the company served in 2017 had been approved, but a handful had not yet been approved and therefore not funded, according to an Alaska Communications spokeswoman. In June 2018, the FCC increased the available funding from $400 million to $571 million, which has since been scaled to $581 million for inflation, according to an FCC spokesman. 10. NPR-A plan revisions Led by former Alaska Department of Natural Resources commissioner Joe Balash, in November Bureau of Land Management officials began the process of reopening the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska Integrated Activity Plan on the prospect of opening more areas to oil exploration. Now an assistant Department of Interior secretary, Balash said in a call with reporters that the emergence of the Nanushuk geologic formation since the last plan was written — the primary source for two discoveries with the potential to produce upward of 100,000 barrels per day each — as well as advances in drilling technology make it an appropriate time to rewrite the federal land-use plan. One of those discoveries, ConocoPhillips’ Willow prospect, is in the eastern part of the NPR-A. BLM is in the early stages of an EIS for the $4 billion to $6 billion Willow project. The most prospective Nanushuk area, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, is in the northeast portion of the NPR-A around Teshekpuk Lake that was made off-limits to oil and gas leasing in the 2013 plan. Last December the USGS dramatically increased its mean recoverable oil estimate for the reserve to nearly 8.7 billion barrels. The Bureau of Land Management started a 45-day scoping period Nov. 20 to seek input on what should be considered in drafting the environmental impact statement, or EIS, that will drive the work. State and local officials have also pushed BLM to reconsider the current land use plan for the reserve. The North Slope Borough is a major financial benefactor of oil development in the NPR-A as the local government, by federal law, is eligible to use up to half of the federal royalty revenue from oil production in the NPR-A for capital grant projects. On Dec. 12 the agency held its annual NPR-A oil and gas lease sale. BLM received 16 bids over 16 oil and gas leases covering 174,044 acres, which netted a total of $1.13 million. Balash concluded that the relative lack of bidding compared to what has happened recently on nearby state lands “underscores the need for us to take a look at the NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan.”

Finally? First Mustang oil targeted for April

If the Arctic winter allows, Alaska will have a new producing oil field by spring, according to Brooks Range Petroleum CEO Bart Armfield. The Mustang oil project Armfield’s company has been plugging away at for more than six years is finally ready to come together after years of challenges, he said. The progress on the Slope coincides with changes to the company structure. The leaders of Brooks Range’s parent companies, Thyssen Petroleum Inc. and Alpha Energy Holdings Ltd., are in the process of finalizing a merger to become a single, publicly traded entity on the Singapore exchange, Armfield said. What the resulting company will be called is still being decided, but the merger is expected to be finalized in mid-January. As for the work on the North Slope, “We plan to have a drilling rig on location after the first of the year. We plan to drill a Mustang lateral (well) and we plan to have facilities on site and production in April,” Armfield said in a Dec. 11 interview. “At that point we go from working interest owners to shareholders.” The Mustang project is in the small Southern Miluveach Unit on the southwest edge of the large Kuparuk River Unit. It’s estimated to hold 22 million barrels of proven reserves, according Brooks Range. Peak production estimates for the field have been in the range of 12,000 barrels per day. However, initial plans are to install a modular early production facility, or EPF, capable of processing up to about 6,000 barrels per day to begin producing oil without the larger expenses of permanent facilities. “Parts of it are here; parts of it are in Houston and parts of it are in Calgary,” Armfield said of the EPF, which should arrive on the Slope early next year. Brooks Range has been working on Mustang for years, though the project has gone through fits and starts since oil prices collapsed starting in late 2014. “The twice veto of the tax credits as well as oil going from $120 to $30 — it has created significant difficulties in shareholder confidence and working interest owner confidence relative to funding,” he said. Brooks Range is owed roughly $22 million in refundable oil and gas tax credits, according to Armfield. The state Department of Revenue gave a unique loan of roughly that amount in 2015 to the entity controlling the Mustang Operations Center-1, mostly owned by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, to keep advancing the project. The company also partnered with AIDEA on the $70 million of early investments in the pad infrastructure and a larger, permanent processing facility in 2012 and 2014. AIDEA transferred those investments to Brooks Range’s parent companies earlier this year through an owner-financed sale of its equity in Mustang. Whether oil will begin flowing from Mustang in April will largely be decided by what kind of winter it is on the North Slope. Brooks Range needs to install a roughly 1,100-foot pipeline to tie Mustang to ConocoPhillips’ larger Alpine transport line. Getting that work done is dependent upon being able to build an ice road along the pipeline route, which so far has been delayed by a warm and late-arriving winter, Armfield said. An earlier plan to truck oil for a short time until the Mustang pipeline is finished was nixed by the company to maximize the economics of that first production instead of pressing to get to first oil as soon as possible. Armfield said that decision was made in conjunction with Alaska Division of Oil and Gas officials who have been closely monitoring the slowly advancing project with a critical eye. The lateral well Brooks Range plans to drill this winter in addition to the pipeline work will ready the MO-1 well for production. “MO-1 is a well that we have right on top of the Kuparuk (formation) that we plan to drill the 6,000-foot horizontal in so that will give us three wells,” Armfield said. Initial production should be “at least a couple thousand barrels a day,” he added, with more oil coming after four new wells are drilled later this year. The hope is those additional wells will max out the 6,000 barrels per day EPF. “If that’s achieved then we make the decision on the larger, 15,000 barrels per day facility or do we just expand the existing EPF,” he said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

NPR-A sale draws limited interest, but one new company

Interest in National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska oil and gas acreage was tempered again this year, with federal officials citing a lack of access to the most prospective areas as a reason for the modest bidding. Overall, the Bureau of Land Management received 16 bids over 16 oil and gas leases covering 174,044 acres, Acting BLM Alaska Director Ted Murphy said during the Wednesday morning bid opening in Anchorage. The bids, ranging from $57,000 to $216,000 per lease, netted a total of $1.13 million, half of which will go to the State of Alaska through revenue sharing. The state lease revenue from the federal reserve is then first available for allocation to a grant program aimed at reducing the impacts of development on North Slope communities. Assistant Interior Secretary Joe Balash said in a call with reporters that the results are encouraging — BLM got 7 bids for NPR-A leases last year — but the lack of bidding compared to what has happened recently on nearby state lands “underscores the need for us to take a look at the NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan.” The state North Slope sale on Nov. 15 netted $28.1 million in bids, the third-highest since 1998. BLM made 254 tracts over 2.8 million acres available for leasing this year in the 22 million-acre reserve based on industry nominations, according to Balash. He announced Nov. 20 that BLM would be starting the process to revise the NPR-A land use plan with the goal of opening additional areas of the reserve for oil and gas leasing. The most prospective areas based on recent Nanushuk formation discoveries, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, are in the northeast portion of the NPR-A around Teshekpuk Lake that was made off-limits to oil and gas leasing in the 2013 plan. Last December the USGS dramatically increased its mean recoverable oil estimate for the reserve to nearly 8.7 billion barrels. “We think that the Petroleum Reserve itself has much more potential,” Balash said, despite the relatively low number of lease bids. Oil companies and some North Slope communities have also pushed for new roads in the reserve to make resident travel and commercial development cheaper and easier. Emerald House LLC, a new player to Alaska, secured 10 of the leases; ConocoPhillips picked up five and Anchorage-based Nordaq Energy Inc. won one. Emerald House is wholly-owned by Elixir Petroleum Inc., according to the state Division of Corporations, Business and Professional licensing. Elixir, an Australian company, holds a several leases covering about 35,000 acres in the southern portion of the NPR-A, according to the company’s website. Most of the leases sold in Wednesday’s sale are near areas ConocoPhillips — the dominant player in the NPR-A — is exploring and developing in its Greater Mooses Tooth oil projects and its large Willow oil prospect. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

DOT shines in quake response

Alaska’s initial earthquake response was been so swift and comprehensive it left some wondering if it was actually true. Those behind the fact-checking website Snopes.com felt compelled to verify the speediness of the Minnesota Drive off-ramp reconstruction photographs and claims for Outsiders. It was reopened before noon on the fourth day after the Nov. 30 morning earthquake. The northbound section of the Glenn Highway that collapsed near Eklutna was reopened early the next morning. By all counts, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities handling of a disaster that damaged infrastructure across Southcentral was one of numerous examples of remarkable emergency preparedness in many facets of life. “The whole group in Central Region, whether it was design, construction, (maintenance and operations), they all performed as you would expect to,” DOT Commissioner John MacKinnon said in an interview. “They performed incredibly well and as a team.” DOT officials said a March incident in which an overheight semi-trailer load struck and significantly damaged a Glenn Highway overpass in Eagle River — shutting down traffic on the only northerly route in and out of Anchorage — encouraged them to look critically at their response plans. “We had those plans fresh” when the earthquake struck, spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said. MacKinnon added, “The other thing that helped is that in instances like this you don’t have to ask for permission to do certain sorts of things — the permits to get — you just respond.” When MacKinnon, appointed by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy, reported to the Central Region office early Dec. 3 to take over DOT from outgoing commissioner Marc Luiken, much of the response and repair work had already progressed to the point where officials were ready to stand down the incident command center. “They intended it to be a smooth transition and it worked very well,” he said. However, many of the repairs, particularly to roads and bridges — as impressive as they’ve been in the days immediately following the quake — are temporary. Permanent road repairs meant to withstand up to 20 years of use will be commence next spring when conditions are more favorable, according to DOT officials. Roughly a week after the quake struck DOT had identified 50 instances of damage to state roads, with eight considered “major” damage. The Federal Highway Administration released $5 million in Emergency Relief funds to the Alaska DOT Dec. 1 at the request of then-Gov. Bill Walker and DOT officials. FHWA considers that initial $5 million to be a “down payment on the costs of short-term repairs while the state continues damage assessments for long-term repairs,” an agency release states. A large portion of the cost of the permanent fixes is expected to be covered by federal disaster aid funding, which Alaska’s senators said Congress is likely to take up in January. Exactly how much those permanent repairs will cost is still unclear, according to MacKinnon. However, the Dunleavy administration will likely ask for funding from the Legislature for repairs to Vine Road in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and similar projects. The state took over work on the completely destroyed section of the borough road to allow borough officials to manage other earthquake-related issues, such as several badly damaged schools, MacKinnon said. He also commended the contractor road crews that immediately went to work long after they were supposed to be done for the season. “It’s not easy to get an asphalt batch plant going when it’s 30 degrees because that asphalt, it’s produced at over 400 degrees. That oil, it’s solid like tar and it’s got to be heated slowly. The aggregate has got water in it — it’s frozen — and it’s got to be broken up and warmed up,” said MacKinnon, who led the Associated General Contractors of Alaska for 11 years. “And again, everyone worked together so well on this thing — the folks at DOT and the industry. “The saying I’ve heard is the worst brings out the best in people and it certainly did in this case.” ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Revised version of Clean Water Act rule released

To the delight of development stakeholders and the Alaska congressional delegation, federal authorities in charge of regulating the nation’s waters released their latest proposal to define which ones they have jurisdiction over on Dec. 11. The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are jointly planning to scale back the waters over which they can claim jurisdictional authority. Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Assistant Secretary of the Army R.D. James signed the proposed rule Dec. 11; the EPA is subsequently expected to submit it for publication in the Federal Register, which will trigger a 60-day public comment period, according to a pre-publication version of the rule. The move is the final step in the Trump administration’s nearly two-year effort to replace an Obama-era version of the “waters of the U.S.” rule, oft referred to as WOTUS, finalized in 2015. The Corps of Engineers adjudicates applications for development permits in navigable waterways across the country on behalf of the EPA. The EPA has the final say over regulating development in and around navigable waters through is Clean Water Act authority. “This proposed rule is intended to increase (Clean Water Act) program predictability and consistency by increasing clarity as to the scope of ‘waters of the United States’ federally regulated under the Act. Today’s proposed definition is also intended to clearly implement the overall objective of the CWA to restore and maintain the quality of the nation’s waters while respecting State and tribal authority over their own land and water resources,” an Army-EPA summary of the rule states. In February 2017 President Donald Trump issued an executive order titled, “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.” That order led to a lengthy public process to repeal the 2015 rule, which concluded earlier this year. On Oct. 9, 2015, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio stayed implementation nationwide of the Clean Water Rule in a 2-1 decision. Judges Richard Allen Griffin and David McKeague found enough evidence to suspend it based on key parameters in the final rule that are not substantiated by adequate scientific conclusions and that the same parameters may not have been added to the Clean Water Rule in accordance with public comment regulations. Specifically, the new WOTUS rule covers traditional, large navigable waters and their tributaries that contribute year-round or intermittent flow and wetlands adjacent to other jurisdictional waters. “Adjacent wetlands” are defined as wetland areas that abut or have a surface water connection to other jurisdictional waters in a normal year, according to the agencies. “Wetlands physically separated from other waters of the United States by upland or by dikes, barriers, or similar structures and also lacking a direct hydrologic surface connection to such waters are not adjacent under today’s proposal,” according to the draft rule issued Dec. 11. Development in waters that fall under the Clean Water Act typically require some sort of mitigation or offset to the impacts of the activity, which development proponents often lament as being very costly. The members of Alaska’s congressional delegation welcomed the announcement in statements from their offices. Sen. Dan Sullivan called the previous version of WOTUS “confusing and burdensome federal overreach.” “If a landowner or farmer has to hire a lawyer for months of work against an impenetrable and glacial bureaucracy — at the cost of thousands of dollars — just to understand whether they can fill a ditch or build a structure, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that doesn’t work, especially in Alaska,” Sullivan said. “The EPA’s proposal offers a path to a more reasonable, statutory-based interpretation of the Clean Water Act. I hope we can continue this progress and finalize a rule that clearly allocates state and federal authority to adequately protect our watersheds and resources, without unnecessarily burdening Alaskans and our economy.” Sullivan serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Opponents argued the old rule placed many manmade water bodies, such as irrigation ditches, under the purview of the Clean Water Act. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, also said the new rule should restore balance in the state and federal relationship over water and “help end years of concern, frustration, and uncertainty over a costly regulation that would have halted construction projects and other economic opportunities.” Under the previous rule promulgated by the Obama administration, waters adjacent to traditionally jurisdictional waters that are within the 100-year floodplain to a maximum of 1,500 feet were subject to the Clean Water Act and thus were jurisdictional waters under federal authority. Additionally, isolated water bodies with a “significant nexus” to navigable waters fell under the Clean Water Act in the 2015 rule. The State of Alaska initially sued the EPA over the 2015 rule along with 12 other, mostly western states. Obama administration officials argued the previous rule was meant to formalize and clarify the jurisdiction the agencies had operated under for years. Conservation groups contend the prior WOTUS rule was based on science that proves the importance intermittent streams and subsurface water connections in maintaining clean water and healthy aquatic ecosystems. “This (Dec. 11) proposal is fundamentally flawed for one simple reason: It focuses on the wrong criteria — continuous flow of water — rather than protecting water quality in our rivers, lakes, and drinking water reservoirs,” Izaak Walton League of America Executive Director Scott Kovarovics said in a formal statement. “This misguided approach is completely unsupported by science and common sense and it not only jeopardizes public health, it will undermine the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy.” Proponents of the old rule also insist it better protected headwater the streams and wetlands that are the foundation of larger downstream water bodies. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Federal earthquake relief to be addressed by next Congress

Additional federal aid is undoubtedly on its way north after the Nov. 30 earthquake, but Alaska will have to wait its turn. Members of the Alaska congressional delegation and their staffs said in the week following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that disaster relief appropriations would likely first go towards hurricane recovery in the Carolinas and Gulf Coast. The Federal Highway Administration released $5 million in Emergency Relief funds to the Alaska Department of Transportation Dec. 1 at the request of then-Gov. Bill Walker and DOT officials. FHWA considers that initial $5 million to be a “down payment on the costs of short-term repairs while the state continues damage assessments for long-term repairs,” an agency release states. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Dec. 3 after touring some of the damage across Southcentral with Sen. Dan Sullivan that Congress would likely approve hurricane relief funding before breaking for the holidays. She forecasted a separate disaster supplemental spending bill addressing California’s wildfires and the Alaska earthquake sometime shortly after the new Congress convenes in January. The primary reason for not simply tacking on to the hurricane relief, which staffers noted has been in the works for months, is to get a better understanding as to just how much damage, in monetary terms, was done. “We don’t need to hurry up quick and throw a number out there just to throw a number out there because Congress is ending,” Murkowski said. “We do have time. We do need to take the time to do a fair and accurate assessment.” Sullivan added that it could take significant time for state officials to determine exactly what amount of federal assistance is needed. “Our message (to those reviewing damage) was take your time to get it right, to get it accurate because we’ll probably have one shot, a good shot, to do it. We certainly don’t want to lowball any estimates right off the bat,” Sullivan said. The senators said they received a call from Vice President Mike Pence in the hours following the earthquake and have heard from other high-ranking federal officials and members of Congress that Alaska will be afforded all of the resources needed to fully recover. A FEMA spokesman said the agency is still assessing damage. On Friday President Donald Trump signed a two-week funding bill that avoids a partial federal government shutdown until Dec. 21. Murkowski said the hurricane relief bill would move through Congress ahead of a budget resolution to make sure the priority appropriation is taken care of. In October, Congress attached nearly a nearly $1.7 billion appropriation for the Carolinas to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, which Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis referred to in a release as a “down payment” on Hurricane Florence relief work. Sullivan estimated the toll of the earthquake to be “at least hundreds of millions of damage that we saw” during a Thursday speech on the Senate floor. “I know people are scared and nervous wondering how they’re going to pay for all the damage, but we’re going to work together through that,” he added Thursday. Murkowski spokeswoman Karina Borger said via email that federal aid would likely be channeled through relevant agencies, such as Housing and Urban Development, for qualifying residential damage. Earthquake damage is spread from the Kenai Peninsula north to Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The most widespread destruction occurred in Eagle River, just east of the epicenter and in the areas of the Mat-Su immediately surrounding the epicenter at Point MacKenzie. “Some of these schools look like someone has completely exploded them inside,” Sullivan described. Eagle River Elementary and Gruening Middle School in Eagle River sustained major damage and will be closed for the rest of the school year. Houston Middle School in the Mat-Su will be closed the rest of the year as well and school officials have questioned whether or not it is repairable. Roughly a week after the quake struck DOT had identified 50 instances of damage to state roads, with eight considered “major” damage, according to spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said. Temporary repairs to sections of the Glenn and Seward highways, as well as the Minnesota Blvd.-International Airport Road interchange were complete within a few days. However, road crews will to return to the once-buckled sections in spring to make permanent fixes. How much those permanent repairs will cost is still unclear, McCarthy said. Look for updates to this story in an upcoming issue of the Journal. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Alaskans make ‘Roadless Rule’ revision recommendations

Alaskans had their say and it’s in the feds hands now. The Alaska Roadless Rule Citizen Advisory Committee has submitted 14 pages of recommendations to the U.S. Forest Service as the federal agency works to draft an Alaska-specific Roadless Rule for the roughly 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest that dominates the Southeast landscape. The aim of the committee’s work and for the tailored rule is to establish “a land classification system designed to conserve Roadless Area characteristics in the Tongass National Forest while accommodating timber harvesting and road construction/reconstruction activities that are determined by the state to be necessary for forest management, economic development opportunities, such as recreation, tourism, energy, and mining, among others, and the exercise of valid existing rights or other non-discretionary legal authorities,” the committee’s report states. It was borne out of a petition sent in January from former Gov. Bill Walker’s administration to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting a full exemption from the sweeping Clinton-era Roadless Rule that timber interests in the state blame for crippling their industry. That request spawned an agreement between former DNR Commissioner Andy Mack and Interim Forest Service Chief Victoria Christensen signed in early August that laid the foundation for the agencies to reopen the Roadless Rule on the likely prospect of reopening more Tongass land to development of some kind. The 13-member committee selected by Walker — plus a Forest Service technical expert — drafted four new rule options along with a long list of specific exemptions for the Forest Service to consider in its likely rewrite of the 2016 Tongass Management Plan. The four proposed Roadless Rule options include maintaining all existing inventoried roadless areas, or IRAs, except for those with roads that pre-date the rule; removing previously roaded areas as well as areas identified in the management plan for timber production and others where a modified landscape has been deemed acceptable; removing areas in timber production and modified landscape IRAs identified by conservation groups as critical salmon habitat conservation areas in addition to the other exemptions; and, most broadly, removing all IRAs that are not currently designated with a non-development land-use priority, according to the report. The additional list of Roadless Rule exemptions for Forest Service officials to consider includes road projects to improve public safety; those for federal mineral leases that pre-date the 2001 implementation of the rule and operating mines; access to hydropower or other renewable energy and utility transmission projects; and roads for accessing fishery research, management and enhancement projects among others. The 2016 Tongass plan emphasizes a shift to young-growth timber harvest in the forest, which Alaska timber industry representatives say they are not opposed to, but they contend it attempts to make the change too quickly before an adequate supply of second-growth stands will be mature enough for viable harvests. Other development interests, such as utilities and mineral explorers, argue the Roadless Rule has ostensibly shut them out of new projects in the Tongass as well. Advisory committee members were generally positive regarding the committee process, which included a series of three, multi-day public meetings held in Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka in October and November. Robert Venables, executive director of the Southeast Conference, a nonprofit regional development organization and an advisory committee member, said he thought everyone on the committee — from conservation-focused individuals to timber and mining representatives — participated with open minds with the goal of finding pragmatic solutions. “For communities that are constrained economically and have transportation challenges (and) high energy costs being able to have access to the resources is really a consideration that needs to be made,” Venables said in an interview. The Southeast Conference has previously advocated for an Alaska exemption to the Roadless Rule, but that was when it was an all-or-nothing choice, he noted. The organization is withholding an opinion now as the new rule is drafted. Fighting solely for keeping the Roadless Rule in place as-is or a full repeal — options the Forest Service will also consider — isn’t very productive, Venables contends. Sitka Conservation Society Executive Director Andrew Thoms, another committee participant, said he thought the process was productive as well and suggested a similar approach could be used in other longstanding resource management debates. Specifically to logging, Thoms stressed that market forces have played a significant role in the downturn of the industry in Southeast since its heyday of the 1980s and early 1990s. “The areas where there is economical timber are now very limited because of that logging that took place in the past. We have much fewer options now than were available in the past for logging as an economic driver and we’re going to have to work together and really figure out how to do logging in the best way if logging businesses are going to survive in Southeast Alaska because there are such few, limited options because of what was logged in the past,” he said. “Roadless is one factor amongst many that are putting constraints upon the timber sector in Southeast Alaska.” While the Roadless Rule did not explicitly ban timber harvest in many IRAs, it now requires helicopter logging and other less invasive but more expensive methods that often don’t pencil out. Other committee members declined to comment further, opting to let the report speak for itself. Alaska Forest Association Executive Director Owen Graham followed the committee process though he was not on the committee. He said he will continue to advocate for a full repeal of the rule because it’s unclear how much more timber would be available for easier harvest under the proposed options. Those specifics are the types of details that could come later in the process of amending the Tongass Management Plan. Forest Service officials have said they expect to have the amended plan complete near the end of 2019 or early 2020. Graham said he could support committee “Option D,” which would open the most acreage to development, if an acceptable amount of timber opportunity is provided. Venables said there was “healthy conversation about watersheds and fisheries” and protecting the tourism sector that has grown in the region as the timber industry has shrunk. He emphasized that Southeast’s timber industry is not likely to return to what it once was, but at least sustaining its current niche of specialty products and export timber should be a priority. “We didn’t finish a project. We started, I think, one of the most meaningful conversations that we can have with a group of individuals that could see a balanced solution and have well-reasoned conversations between developers and conservationists and folks that are just trying to make sustainable communities in the region,” Venables added. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Tariff pause doesn’t change talks with China on AK LNG

Alaska Gasline Development Corp. officials believe the recent announcement of a 90-day pause on new tariffs between the U.S. and China is a positive development, but it has not changed their broader approach to reaching firm agreements with their Chinese counterparts. AGDC spokesman Jesse Carlstrom said the leaders of the state agency have continued to monitor what they refer to as the “trade friction” between the companies, which they view as short-term while Alaska LNG is a generational project. They have remained consistent in their view of the U.S.-China trade dispute while working to finalize deals to underpin the Alaska LNG Project with three of China’s largest companies. President Donald Trump said in a Dec. 1 statement from the White House that he and China President Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day pause on new or steeper tariffs on goods traded between the countries. That means a previously discussed tariff increase from 10 percent to 25 percent on roughly $200 billion of Chinese imports will not happen Jan. 1. China has instituted a 10 percent tariff on U.S. LNG imports in response to initial tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese goods. China originally contemplated a 25 percent tariff on U.S. LNG imports. State-owned Chinese oil and gas giant Sinopec is a potential anchor customer for the project after it signed a nonbinding joint development agreement with AGDC to purchase up to 75 percent of Alaska LNG’s expected 20 million tons per year of production capacity in November 2017. That agreement, or JDA, also detailed the prospect of the Bank of China and China Investment Corp. correspondingly financing up to 75 percent of project development costs with a mix of debt and equity. “All parties, AGDC and the JDA parties, have proceeded through 2018 on the work to advance the project,” Carlstrom said. AGDC President Keith Meyer has said there are no signs from the Chinese negotiating team that the tariffs have slowed progress on the Alaska LNG deals. Meyer stresses that the project would be a major step towards balancing trade between the countries and thus should be part of resolving the economic tensions. The Chinese consortium and AGDC signed a supplemental agreement Sept. 29 to collectively reaffirm their desire to reach a firm deal by the end of this year. The JDA has a Dec. 31 deadline for final agreements; however, former Gov. Bill Walker said in a late November interview with the Journal that he thought the deadline might need to be adjusted in light of a new state administration taking over. Former Gov. Sean Parnell, who initiated the current Alaska LNG Project iteration at the time led by the major North Slope producers, is advising new Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the state-led effort. Carlstrom said AGDC and the JDA parties continue to advance negotiations on all fronts. “We’re still on track and still aiming for that Dec. 31 target,” he said. “We’re also advancing agreements across the entire Asia-Pacific region.” AGDC officials have touted receiving 15 letters of interest from potential LNG customers in Asia over the past two years, but most of them — including even the names of the interested parties — have been kept confidential. Carlstrom noted that if the JDA deadline passes without firm LNG sale and financing deals in place the negotiations can continue if all the parties agree. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Railroad back on track three days after quake

The first Alaska Railroad trains were back traveling between Anchorage and Fairbanks late Dec. 3 following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that damaged the tracks running between Alaska’s largest cities Nov. 30. Alaska Railroad Corp. spokesman Tim Sullivan said afternoon Dec. 3 that service on the railroad’s northern route was expected to resume later that day “due to the hard work of a hell of a lot of people.” A day-and-a-half after the quake it was unclear when the tracks would be reopened as the quake had rendered at least three areas “impassable,” Sullivan told the Anchorage Daily News at the time, as inspections were ongoing. Dec. 3 he said at least a half-dozen areas of damage were identified including the three that required immediate repairs to reopen the route. “Those three are now passable,” Sullivan said. “They will be slow orders. There will be folks going over them beforehand to make sure that they’re in good shape; folks will be going over them after the trains to make sure they’re still in good shape — that we don’t see any difference in them after the trains go through and that will be the case for quite some time.” In addition to areas where the gravel bed subsided, there were other areas where the tracks shifted but can still be used with caution at slower than normal speeds, he added. As is the case with many construction projects in Alaska, there is a lot the railroad can’t do to repair its tracks in the winter so some of the work will have to wait until spring, according to Sullivan. The tracks south of Anchorage to Whittier and Seward did not sustain as much damage. The railroad issued a subsequent release Dec. 4 stating that it was set to resume regularly scheduled passenger and freight service along the entirety of its routes. “We could not be more pleased with the work our crews have done to get the Alaska Railroad back up and running in just over 72 hours,” Vice President of Marketing Dale Wade said in a formal statement. “This incredible effort from railroaders speaks to the grit and perseverence of Alaska and its people. We are happy to be able to return to serving our passengers and freight customers so quickly.” Summer is the busy season for passenger service, but the Alaska Railroad has increased its winter ridership in recent years by offering offseason fare discounts along with holiday, aurora-viewing and other themed trains. In all, the railroad has passenger service on 482 miles of track from Fairbanks to Whittier and Seward. The railroad has also been a primary supplier of fuel to the Interior since Flint Hills Resources closed its North Pole refinery in the spring of 2014. The earthquake also caused a pipe to burst in the railroad’s Anchorage Operations Center, which will require significant work to repair, but the railroad’s other facilities in Anchorage sustained only minor damage. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Preliminary revenue forecast out, but per barrel price headed lower

Amid a transition of power at the highest levels of state government and ongoing earthquake rebuilding and recovery in Southcentral, Department of Revenue officials released an early version of the state’s annual Fall Revenue Forecast on Dec. 3 with a major “subject to change” disclaimer. The Preliminary Fall 2018 Revenue Forecast projects the State of Alaska will collect more than $6.2 billion of unrestricted revenue available for appropriation in the current 2019 fiscal year, which would lead to the state’s first balanced budget since 2012, outgoing Gov. Bill Walker said in a speech to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Nov. 26. Slightly more than $3 billion of that would be petroleum-derived tax and royalty revenue, while another nearly $500 million would come from non-petroleum sources; the remaining $2.7 billion would be drawn from the Earnings Reserve Account of the Permanent Fund based on a 5.25 percent of market value, or POMV, calculation. However, the big caveat in those numbers is an assumption that Alaska North Slope crude oil will hold an average price of $76 per barrel for the remaining roughly seven months of fiscal 2019. That figure was arrived at late October, according to a Revenue Department release, when daily Alaska oil prices were hovering between $75 and $79 per barrel. The department is delaying slightly the release of the 2018 Revenue Sources Book to allow the oil price forecast to be reviewed and possibly revised. The final book will still be published ahead of the mandated Dec. 15 deadline of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s first proposed budget, according to a department release. As of Nov. 29, Alaska crude sold for $60.46 cents per barrel, according to the state Tax Division. The forecast anticipates an average Alaska oil price of $75 per barrel for fiscal year 2020, which starts July 1 and prices slowly climbing to average $84 per barrel by 2027. “Once again, Alaska is experiencing unexpected oil price volatility. As has been our practice for the past 15 years, through the month of October, the department worked with staff from Revenue, Natural Resources, Labor, the University of Alaska, (the office of Management and Budget), and Legislative Finance, as well as private economics firms and financial analysts to develop an oil price forecast,” Revenue Commissioner Sheldon Fisher said in a formal statement. “During November, however, the oil markets have experienced the largest monthly price decline, in percentage terms, in a decade.” Fisher continued to say that oil markets currently appear to be oversupplied as U.S. oil sanctions on Iran that took effect last month did not slow the supply of oil from the major producing country as expected. That resulted in increased Saudi production — intended to only offset production losses from Iran — oversupplying global oil markets in the short term and leading to the dip in prices, according to Fisher and other analysts. President Donald Trump has said he wants Saudi Arabia to continue ramped-up production to keep oil prices low, which generally benefits U.S. consumers. The route the Saudis will take is unclear. Alaska economist Ed King, who previously worked as an economic advisor in Walker’s administration and now manages private firm King Economics, suggested incoming Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman and his team should look at reverting back to prior predictions when adjusting the state’s official oil price forecast for the final 2018 Revenue Sources Book that will be published later this month. “It’s probably good to assume that the $60-$65 range is a better number to budget on and if we beat that number, then great, and if we don’t then we’ll have to adjust accordingly,” King said. The Spring 2018 Revenue Forecast, which is an annual update during the legislative session to the fall Revenue Sources Book, anticipated $63 per barrel oil for fiscal 2019 with oil prices expected “to stabilize in the low $60s in real terms,” Fisher wrote to Walker in a letter accompanying the spring forecast. At the time, administration officials said $63 per barrel oil would leave the state with roughly a $700 million budget deficit for the 2019. King participated in Revenue’s October oil price forecasting session and also noted how much the oil market landscape has changed since then. “That’s one of the challenges with the annual forecast rather than a continuously updated one. That number is probably outdated and probably needs to be revised before the Legislature’s budget is based on it,” he added. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

British Columbia seeks bids to remidate Tulsequah Chief mine

British Columbia mining regulators have taken the first step toward paying to clean up an abandoned mine that has been leaking acid runoff into Alaska waters for decades. The British Columbia Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources issued a request for proposals Nov. 6 soliciting bids to remediate the Tulsequah Chief mine located in the Taku River drainage about 10 miles upstream from the Alaska-British Columbia border. State officials contend the multi-metal mine that operated for just six years has been leaking acid wastewater into the Tulsequah River, which feeds the Taku, since it was closed in 1957. The Taku River empties into the Pacific near Juneau and is one of the largest salmon-bearing rivers in Southeast Alaska. The Alaska congressional delegation and Gov. Bill Walker’s administration have stepped up their demands for provincial officials to address the situation in recent years — largely at the behest of Southeast commercial fishing and Native groups — after the mine’s latest owners, Toronto-based Chieftain Metals Ltd., began bankruptcy proceedings in 2016. Sen. Dan Sullivan and former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott traveled to Ottawa to meet with Canadian officials in February to discuss their environmental and fishery concerns about government oversight of mining activity within transboundary watersheds in the province that flow into Alaska. A burst of mining activity in the remote northern region of the province has led to numerous new mines and mine proposals in transboundary watersheds. At the same time, the Energy, Mines and Petroleum Ministry has come under scrutiny for its regulatory requirements of mines after a British Columbia auditor general report concluded the 2014 Mount Polley mine tailings dam breach was the result of inadequate engineering. The Mount Polley copper and gold mine is in the upper reaches of the large Fraser River watershed. Alaska officials have also requested their provincial counterparts assist in conducting baseline environmental studies in the lower reaches of transboundary watersheds to monitor things such as water quality in advance of upstream mine development. Sullivan said in a Nov. 19 statement from his office that he is encouraged the provincial government has finally taken a more active role in cleaning up the troubled and abandoned mine. “The announcement that the government intends to move forward and develop a remediation plan is a step in the right direction. As voices on both sides of the border have been asking for years, it’s time for the B.C. government, the state of Alaska, Alaska Native and First Nations communities to work together to remove this and other looming threats over our rivers, fisheries, communities’ health and wellbeing,” Sullivan said. Gov. Walker wrote to British Columbia Premier John Horgan Oct. 31 thanking him for the work the state and province have done on transboundary issues but reiterated an ongoing worry about whether the financial assurances the province requires of mining companies are adequate to protect such rivers. “These concerns arise, in significant part, because statutory decision-makers in British Columbia may accept less than full security based on a company’s financial strength, and the public has less access to the data and analyses used to set the amount of financial assurances in British Columbia,” Walker wrote. He continued to stress that the decades-old problems with the Tulsequah Chief mine do not inspire confidence in the province’s oversight of its mines. “As long as contaminants from the site continue to drain into the Tulsequah River and downstream to the Taku River, people on our side of the border will worry about the health of the fish and other marine life in Alaska that depend on the quality of these waters,” Walker wrote. “Alaskans will also continue to question the ability of Canada and the province to assure mineral development is done without sacrificing environmental values.” Chris Zimmer, an Alaska director for the Juneau-based transboundary watershed conservation advocacy group Rivers Without Borders said Nov. 13 that since two companies have gone bankrupt after attempting to re-open the mine, “Permanent mine closure with full reclamation would be the best and most cost-effective solution to the Tulsequah Chief issue and we urge the B.C. government to adopt such a plan, as opposed to partial interim measures such as on-site water treatment.” Chieftain Metals acquired the underground mine in 2010 with plans to re-open it. The company installed a water treatment plant to resolve the acid drainage problem in 2011 but the plant was shut down in June 2012 after just nine months because it did not perform up to expectations. Chieftain stopped permitting efforts to resume mining in 2015, according to provincial regulators. Proposals to clean up Tulsequah Chief are due by Dec. 13. It’s unclear how much the effort will cost.

Clock ticks on ANWR seismic survey plan

If the Bureau of Land Management is going to lease parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration next year, it may have to do so with very limited information available for bidders. Assistant Interior Secretary Joe Balash said officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continue to work with SAExploration Inc. on issues pertaining to the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act for the company’s application to conduct a 3-D seismic survey over the ANWR coastal plain this winter. However, he acknowledged that the schedule for such a survey — which can only be done while the tundra is frozen and snow-covered — is starting to be squeezed as BLM is required to issue a public notice and hold a comment period before the seismic survey plan is officially approved. “At this point it is getting very tight if their activities are going to begin in January,” Balash said during a Nov. 19 call with reporters conducted to discuss BLM’s work to revise the land-use plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. SAExploration submitted the original Marsh Creek 3-D seismic survey plan to Interior last spring in partnership with Alaska Native corporations Kuukpik Corp., Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. ASRC and Kaktovik Inupiat Corp., commonly known as KIC, hold surface and subsurface mineral rights to significant portions of the roughly 1.6 million-acre ANWR coastal plain — the area of the refuge opened for oil and gas exploration in the tax cut package that Congress passed about a year ago. The Marsh Creek plan called for SAE to conduct a seismic program covering 2,602 square miles over two winters, with initial work starting Dec. 10 of this year. In late May the Washington Post reported that the Fish and Wildlife Service deemed the 34-page plan application incomplete because it didn’t evaluate potential impacts to wildlife the large seismic shoot could have. Balash said it was too soon to tell if the agencies and the companies would be able to work something out for work to now start in January. “It all depends on the schedule that A, can be authorized, and B, that the applicant would be able to complete the activities that would be of value to them and their potential customers,” he said. Balash is a former Alaska Department of Natural Resources commissioner. President Barack Obama’s Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected a similar seismic survey plan submitted by the State of Alaska when Balash led DNR in 2013, contending her authority to approve the activity expired in 1987 based on an interpretation of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The state lost a subsequent U.S. District Court appeal. The state’s plan was estimated to cost roughly $50 million; it’s unclear how much the private consortium expects to spend. Last year outgoing Gov. Bill Walker proposed spending $10 million of state funds to support such work but that appropriation was later removed from his budget plan. A new seismic survey would likely be very valuable to oil and gas companies interested in bidding on ANWR leases, as the only resource estimates the U.S. Geological survey has done are based on old information compiled with old, 2-D technology. How many companies will want to explore the area is uncertain given the associated political controversy and the fact that it would be a very expensive greenfield mission while long-term oil prices are very uncertain. Additionally, new Nanushuk and Torok geologic formation discoveries in and around the NPR-A on the western North Slope have drawn major interest from the industry and development in the NPR-A is already underway. Interior officials have said they want to hold the first ANWR lease sale sometime in 2019. The most informed estimate on ANWR’s coastal plain area came from the U.S. Geological Survey in 1998, which made a “mean” estimate of 7.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil that could be discovered. “Mean” is basically the midpoint between high and low estimates. Whether oil is really there isn’t known for sure. The USGS worked with data from 1,180 miles of 2-D seismic program conducted between 1983 and 1985, plus what is known about the regional geology. The only exploration well drilled in ANWR, in a 91,000-acre in-holding of private lands owned by Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. and Arctic Slope Regional Corp., was drilled in the early 1980s by BP and Chevron Corp., and the results are still secret. BLM is also working on the first draft of an environmental impact statement required before a lease sale can be held. Balash said the draft is “very, very close” but the agency isn’t quite ready to publish it. It should be available in the coming weeks, he added. On Nov. 14, Energy Information Administration Assistant Administrator Ian Mead said in a presentation to the Resource Development Council for Alaska that the agency base estimate is oil production from ANWR could peak at 880,000 barrels per day in 2041. That assumes oil would begin to flow in 2030, but is also based on the now 20-year old USGS resource assessment. State DNR and Revenue officials told legislators in 2015 that ANWR oil development could net the state $150 billion of revenue if production goes through 2075, but that was also based on an average price of $110 per barrel.


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