Tim Bradner

Positive reviews for fiscal plan, but budget gap remains

Gov. Bill Walker’s plan to revamp the state’s financial structure and narrow a huge budget deficit is getting good marks in the financial community.

Standard and Poor’s likes it, but adds that it doesn’t go far enough. Standard and Poor’s is one of the state’s credit rating agencies and issued a warning in August that the state was facing rapid downgrades from its top “AAA” rating if action was not taken in the next legislative session to put the state on a more sustainable path.

Gas tax shelved, buyout still on agenda

The state Legislature is plodding through its special session on natural gas issues, although the hot-button questions like a deal on state fiscal terms are not yet on the table.

Gov. Bill Walker pulled his controversial idea for a state tax on natural gas reserves off the special session agenda, which now leaves only the question of paying TransCanada Corp. for its investment to date in the Alaska LNG Project.

Miners seek bright spots on horizon

If you look around the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage next week you wouldn’t believe there’s a slump in mining industry.

The Alaska Miners Association holds its annual convention and trade show Nov. 1-7 and the convention’s massive trade show will be of record size, taking all of the convention center’s vast ground floor and a share of the second floor.

About 1,000 people are expected at the convention, said AMA’s executive director, Deantha Crockett. That’s about the same as last year.

Good news from the Slope: More oil, drilling

There’s some good news from the North Slope.

First, oil is flowing at ConocoPhillips’ new CD-5 North Slope production drillsite on the North Slope, the company said in an announcement Oct. 26. Peak production is expected to be about 16,000 barrels per day. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. is ConocoPhillips’ minority partner, and mineral rights are held by Arctic Slope Regional Corp.

NANA makes gold strike; work continues amid price slump

Things aren’t great for Alaska’s miners right now, but despite the extended downturn in metals prices some explorers are pressing ahead.

NANA Regional Corp., which conducted its own exploration, announced what it termed a “significant” new gold discovery on state lands on the eastern Seward Peninsula.

However, the overall number of new “grassroots” exploration projects is sharply down this year compared with previous years, and the suppliers and contractors who support explorers are feeling the effects.

BLM approves ConocoPhillips’ permit for NPR-A project

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has approved a drilling permit and right-of-way for ConocoPhillips’ proposed Greater Mooses Tooth 1, or GMT-1, oil development project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, or NPR-A.

ConocoPhillips spokeswoman Natalie Lowman said the agency’s approvals were good news for her company and its minority partner, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. However, she said there is not yet a timetable for sanctioning or final approval of the project, which is expected to produce 30,000 barrels a day at peak and cost $900 million to construct.

Walker backs down on gas reserves tax, for now

A proposed state tax on natural gas reserves is off the table, at least for now. Gov. Bill Walker said he would hold off on the idea after receiving letters from North Slope producers that they would commit gas to buyers through the proposed Alaska LNG Project if they withdrew.

The announcement came Oct. 23, the day before state legislators began a special session of the Legislature called by Walker to consider issues related to the Alaska LNG Project, a large gas project in which the state is a partner.

Walker’s gas tax raises more questions

Gov. Bill Walker has offered his first explanation of his proposed tax on natural gas reserves in advance of a special session of the Legislature due to convene Oct. 24.

But the letter written by the governor to legislators Oct. 19 seems to raise more questions than it answers, and if the tax was actually passed by the Legislature, which is doubtful, it would prompt lawsuits that would entangle and delay the planned Alaska LNG Project.

Walker describes the proposal as an “incentive,” to get North Slope gas producers to agree to produce gas and commit it to the LNG project.

AOGCC approves additional gas offtake at Prudhoe Bay

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has approved an increased natural gas “offtake” rate of 3.6 billion cubic feet of gas per day from the Prudhoe Bay field on the North Slope to supply the planned Alaska LNG Project.

The commission’s order, issued Oct. 15, amended a previous order from several years ago that allowed 2.7 billion cubic feet of gas to be produced.

AOGCC’s action is one of several major regulatory steps needed for the Alaska LNG Project, the potential $50 billion-plus large gas project that is now being planned.

Voters reject rail lease, stalling Skagway port

In a surprise, Skagway voters rejected a proposed new lease for the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway on municipal-owned land in Oct. 6 municipal elections, and this has complicated a $23 million Skagway port redevelopment project planned to be underway in 2016.

The new lease, had it passed, would have reduced the White Pass lease from 78 acres to 2.7 acres, giving the municipality control of uplands and tidelands needed for the port redevelopment.

Under the plan, aging docks and upland facilities would be replaced and the port expanded.

Officials see positive in new flow rate estimate

State officials are cautious about Repsol’s agreement to relinquish part of a promising North Slope oil discovery to its minority partner, independent Armstrong Oil and Gas, but are still upbeat about the scale of potential reserves announced by the two companies Oct. 13.

It was the first public release of potential reserves, and welcome news to Alaskan officials.

Interior Dept. leaves Alaska in dark before canceling sale

Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowki and Dan Sullivan were both at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention Oct. 16, at the Denai’na Center in Anchorage when U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell dropped her bombshell.

Without notice to the state’s two senators or state officials Jewell announced she would cancel two planned Arctic Outer Continental Shelf lease sales and deny requests from Shell and other companies to suspend their Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea leases.

Repsol reduces Slope holdings, winter season deferred

Mixed feelings greeted an announcement Oct. 13 by Spanish major Repsol and Denver-based independent Armstrong Oil and Gas that the latter will be taking a larger share and most likely operating control of the companies’ proposed North Slope oil development.

That Repsol, a major oil and gas company based in Madrid, is shrinking its share of the project and turning over the keys to Armstrong, a company with an exploration, but not development, focus, is being viewed negatively.

Sparcks ready to grow 10 years after winning AFN Marketplace

If three Sparck sisters from Bethel fulfill their ambition to grow their small ArXotica Inc. into a large skin and health care products enterprise, a lot of credit should goes to the Alaska Federation of Natives “Marketplace” business competition.

That’s something the sisters — Michelle, Amy and Cika — readily acknowledge.

In 2006, the Sparcks landed grants for critical startup cash through the AFN Marketplace, where entrepreneurs, mostly from rural areas, present their ideas and business plans to a panel of judges.

Another AK LNG issue: Who pays for state access to gas?

If the giant Alaska LNG Project is built, more than three billion cubic feet of gas will be flowing through the Matanuska-Susitna Borough every day by pipeline.

Will it be available for local residents along the pipeline route?

The answer to that is yes, but there are qualifications, and Mat-Su legislators say they are getting a lot of questions about gas availability from constituents.

Indepdendent oil explorers have plans from NPR-A to Southcentral

Independent companies are gearing up to drill more exploration wells in Alaska this winter and next summer, defying low crude oil prices and uncertainties in a state oil and gas exploration incentive program.

Dallas-based Caelus Energy plans to test its offshore prospect in Smith Bay, which is north of the federal National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska, but onshore tests by small independents are now planned in the southern North Slope and in Interior Alaska.

AK LNG makes technical progress, economics still challenging

Alaska LNG Project managers presented an upbeat report on technical progress of the giant gas project in a Sept. 9 briefing to legislators, but also warned of the economic challenges faced.

Steve Butt, an ExxonMobil official who is manager of the overall project, described the possible complications of an expansion of the pipe diameter requested by Gov. Bill Walker. However, if the expansion were done the goal would be to keep the project on schedule for a 2018 or 2019 construction decision, he said.

Producers still squeezing barrels out of middle-aged Prudhoe Bay

It has been almost 50 years since it was discovered and nearly 40 years since it started producing, but today the Prudhoe Bay oil field is still the engine that drives Alaska’s North Slope oil industry. The field produces about 250,000 barrels per day — one sixth of what it produced in the late 1970s — but that’s still about half of the state’s total production.

Without it, it’s unlikely the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System could operate economically. Even in its maturity Prudhoe is still the largest oil field in North America.

Walker touts AK LNG in Japan, responds to Exxon CEO

Gov. Bill Walker is in Japan to wave Alaska’s flag at a big liquefied natural gas conference in Tokyo. A team of state officials accompanies Walker including Deputy Natural Resources Commissioner Marty Rutherford; Audie Setters, an LNG consultant to the state, and Walker’s communications director Grace Jang.

The meeting is the annual LNG Producers/Consumers Conference, one of the world’s largest and most influential LNG trade conferences, where Walker will speak Sept. 15.

State pessimistic about gasline session

PALMER — The president of the state-own gas development corporation told state legislators Sept. 9 that Gov. Bill Walker is unlikely to call a special legislative session to ratify Alaska LNG Project agreements unless progress is made quickly on several key issues.

Walker must issue a call for a special session 30 days in advance and the clock is ticking on that deadline for a special session in mid-to-late October, which had been the governor’s hope.

No agreement on the key outstanding issues were announced as of Sept. 15.

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