Tim Bradner

Pebble revived: Owner plans to file for permits in 2017

Alaskans are used to seeing apocalyptic images about the Pebble mine.

TV ads opposing the large copper-gold prospect near Iliamna cast images of toxic sludge cascading down mountain valleys into Bristol Bay, killing all the salmon.

Is the hype shoe now on the other foot?

It’s jarring, but sponsored-content pitches are now showing up on mainstream Internet sites touting Pebble, posted not by owner Northern Dynasty but by people touting Pebble’s stock.

Unique agreement allows Ahtna group to manage harvests, habitat

A new agreement between an Alaska Native Tribal group and the U.S. Department of the Interior sets up the first framework for joint-management of subsistence game hunting on federal lands and as well as game habitat enhancement on federal and adjacent Native-owned private lands.

Although somewhat similar cooperative agreements exist for subsistence taking of fish on certain rivers as well as waterfowl and walrus, this one is different because it has a Tribal group managing harvests for Tribal members along with habitat management, which is unique.

UAA among first to join entrepreneurship program

With its terrain, tough climate and remoteness, Alaska has its challenges.

In certain fields, like energy, the state has become a kind of incubator for new technologies as these challenges become opportunities.

For project developers, particularly Alaskans among them, the holy grail is how to take things invented here and market them elsewhere. There are examples of this, but for most success has been elusive.

But if we crack that nut, does this drive more Alaska-born technology? How do we make Alaska firms into industry leaders?

Alaska Tribes and the confusing land trust issue

The only thing clear so far about lands-into-trust is that lawyers will make a lot of money.

Lands-into-trust refers to the U.S. Interior Department’s change in regulation that will allow Alaska Native Tribal groups to apply for lands owned by Tribes to be placed in trust, where the land is held by the federal government in trust for the Tribe.

Almost everything about this, as it applies to Alaska, is unclear, hence the need for the lawyers.

Prudhoe plan approved on day Oil & Gas Division director resigned

Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack approved the 2016 Plan of Development for the Prudhoe Bay oilfield on Sept. 20, but only after amending the original approval signed four days earlier by Division of Oil & Gas Director Corri Feige.

Sept. 20 was also when Feige announced her resignation from the division.

In other departure news, ConocoPhillips Vice President of Commercial Assets Leo Ehrhard, previously the top LNG manager in Alaska for the company, has retired.

Joint venture for marketing could solve one AK LNG issue

ConocoPhillips and Alaska’s state-owned gas corporation, Alaska Gasline Development Corp., say they are negotiating on a joint-venture organization to market North Slope natural gas as LNG.

ConocoPhillips is one of three North Slope producers and gas owners, along with the state through its royalty interest in gas.  

The two are inviting BP and ExxonMobil, two other major slope gas owners, to join the group.

“ConocoPhillips has always supported joint-venture marketing, and we see this as a first step,” company spokeswoman Amy Jennings Burnett said.

New AG has tightrope to walk for lands-into-trust path

New Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth has been given a tricky assignment by Gov. Bill Walker: forge a compromise on lands-into-trust, a contentious issue that is developing around the legal status of certain Alaska Native lands.

Unless resolved, this has the potential to divide Alaskans, many believe.

BOEM director hears support for OCS drilling in Alaska

U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abby Hopper got an earful in Alaska last week.

Hopper met with Gov. Bill Walker, the state’s congressional delegation and representatives of Arctic communities — all urging that Arctic offshore lease sales be included in the next five-year Outer Continental Shelf leasing schedule.

Hopper’s schedule of meetings included no opponents to offshore drilling.

She would not tip her hand on whether her recommendations to her boss, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, will include lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

Don’t tell Delta farmers that 1980s project was a bust

It’s part of Alaska lore that the state’s Delta Barley Project in the 1980s was a huge flop and that all the farmers went bust. Tell that to farmers in Delta, who are doing quite nicely.

In fact Delta farmers are succeeding, although in ways not originally intended by state planners.

“I don’t see failure when I go to Delta. I see people working and tractors in the field,” says Arthur Keyes, the state’s new Agriculture director.

Bryce Wrigley, a local barley farmer, says people around Delta get pretty steamed when they hear they are all failures.

Employers begin programs to develop industry ‘cross-skills’

Alaska employer and training groups are taking another step in a long-sought goal: identifying “cross-industry” skills that will allow workforce training to focus on entry-level capabilities useful across several related industries such as petroleum, mining and maritime.

It has not turned out to be a simple task, said Dave Rees, a retired BP workforce manager who chairs the Business Education Compact, a forum for employers and the job training community.

Budget cuts take bite from job training programs

Budget cuts to state and university training programs have become a major concern for industry leaders who worry about the “graying” the workforce in Alaska’s key industries, and having enough future skilled workers. The concern is across-the-board, from oil and gas to mining, maritime, seafood — you name it.

The skilled-worker gap is actually a problem now, even with the state facing economic uncertainties.

OMB director: State personnel reduced by 1,700 in last two years

State budget cuts are beginning to hit home, in terms of jobs and economic impact.

Office of Management and Budget Director Pat Pitney said state employee numbers have dropped by 1,700 in the last two years and the total will grow by another 400 in the next 12 months.

So far Anchorage and Juneau are feeling the brunt of the reductions, with both communities down about 500 state workers each, Pitney said at a Commonwealth North meeting July 22.

Commonwealth North is an Anchorage-based public policy group.

Seasonal advantage gives state peony market room to grow

Alaska’s oil industry may be in a slump but there’s one new industry rising: the growing and export of fresh flowers, in particular peonies.

For certain raising peonies, the large blossoms beloved for weddings and other special events around the world, won’t replace oil as a source of high-paid jobs or state revenues, at least anytime soon.

DNR transition at top takes place amid budget challenges

When outgoing Natural Resources Commissioner Marty Rutherford gives the keys to incoming commissioner Andy Mack, she will be handing over a major state agency that is, considering the state budget, in pretty good shape.

Rutherford is a 27-year veteran Department of Natural Resources administrator who retired June 30 after having served for years as deputy commissioner with several stints as acting commissioner, the most recent since March with the departure of former commissioner Mark Myers.

Giessel, MacKinnon skeptical of new direction on AK LNG

A briefing planned for next Wednesday on the Alaska LNG Project promises to be interesting, and possibly heated.

The state House and Senate Resources committees are due to meet June 29 for a scheduled update from industry and state officials on the big pipeline and liquefied natural gas project.

Alaska is a partner in Alaska LNG with the three major North Slope producers, BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil.

Legislature takes weekend pause after movement on credits, Fund earnings

The Legislature is still trying to finish its business after there was a flurry of activity this week with the passage of House Bill 247, the embattled oil tax credit bill, and the Senate’s passage of a Permanent Fund earnings restructuring, in Senate Bill 128.

Several tax bills proposed by Gov. Bill Walker were moved out of the House Finance Committee, but not debated on the floor.

The previous week the state operating and capital budgets were passed.

Budget deal overshadowed by inaction on oil tax credits, Fund earnings

State legislators managed to pass a budget last week funded by cash reserves, but at week’s end an impasse continued over a long-term plan to restructure state finances and changes to a complex oil tax credit bill.

The House Minority agreed to the votes needed to fund the budget after Republican leaders in the House and Senate agreed to add about $74 million in funds that had been cut, mainly in education, back into the budget.

June 1 looms as some legislative work continues over holiday

Legislators remained in special session in Juneau through the Memorial Day weekend and some committees actually scheduled meetings to work on bills, although many lawmakers were heading home Friday for the long holiday weekend.

The special session convened May 23, with legislators called back by Gov. Bill Walker after they failed to pass key bills, including the budget, by the legal end of the regular 2016 session on May 18. The state fiscal year ends June 30, and layoff notices will be sent to state employees June 1.

Lawmakers face crunch of time, hotel space as special session begins

Legislators were back in Juneau Monday morning, May 23, meeting in special session to resume work on a tangle of critical bills they failed to complete May 18 when the regular 2016 session had to end. It was the legal 120-day limit of the regular session.

One new worry for legislators, however, is whether they might be kicked out of hotel rooms and apartments if the special session extends into June when Juneau’s annual tourism hotel room crunch hits.

Limiting ER ‘over-users’ an attempt at cost control

Trouble comes knocking at Dr. Anne Zink’s emergency room door at the Mat-Su Regional Hospital near Palmer.

The patient is a middle-aged housewife, upper middle class, educated, addicted and shopping for painkillers. Zink doesn’t know that.

This is a problem.

Alaska has a state prescription drug database, but it takes time to log in and use. Zink doesn’t have time. Things move too fast in emergency rooms.

“I need this information now, in real-time. Without it, I’m practicing blind,” she said.

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