Tim Bradner

Courts allow Medicaid expansion to proceed

State officials processed 356 new applications for Medicaid Sept. 1, the first day of an expansion of the program, and another 27 individuals were approved for health care under the expansion.

“It was a very good day, with a lot of hard work by many folks, especially in the field. We also saw a significant increase in phone volume at 5 p.m. directly related to Medicaid expansion inquiries,” said Dawnell Smith, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Services.

Skagway set to embark on $23M Yukon Gateway Project

Skagway will begin work later this year on its long-planned Yukon Gateway Project, a $23 million redevelopment of the historic city’s port and its aging facilities that will broaden Skagway’s role as a transportation “gateway” to Canada’s landlocked, but mineral-rich, Yukon Territory.

The long-run plan is a project that would cost about $80 million when fully developed.

Injunction sought against unilateral expansion

Superior Court Judge Erin B. Marston must decide by Aug 31 whether to halt the enrollment of new Medicaid recipients under Gov. Bill Walker’s expansion of the program.

In a lawsuit filed Aug. 24, the Legislative Council, acting mainly under direction of Republican House and Senate leaders, asked for an injunction blocking the governor’s Sept. 1 start of Medicaid enrollment.

Large premium increases approved for individual policies

The Alaska Division of Insurance has approved significant 2016 health insurance rate increases for individual and family policies issued by two companies selling health coverage.

A much smaller increase of 4 percent was approved for policies covering small groups of 50 to 250.

For the individual and family policies, a 2016 increase of 39.6 percent has been approved for Moda Health and a 38.7 percent increase was approved for Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, according to Lori Wing-Heier, the state insurance director.

Slope output dips on scheduled maintenance

North Slope production dipped sharply in late August due to production facility and pipeline maintenance temporary shutdowns, but is now returning to more normal mid-summer levels.

In the large Prudhoe Bay field, which accounts for about half of total Slope oil production, Gathering Station 1 and Flow Station 1 in the field have been down for scheduled maintenance “turnarounds,” BP spokeswoman Dawn Patience said. Work has been underway since June and will continue to mid-September, she said. BP is the operator of the field.

Shell exploration drilling advances at Burger J

Shell is keeping a tight lid on information about its Chukchi Sea drilling for now.

The semi-submersible Polar Explorer is at work drilling the first well in Shell’s 2015 program, Burger J, and a weekly report issued Aug. 25 by the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, or BSEE, indicated that a shallow casing string has been installed and cemented into place on the well.

Cooperate, don't lead on AK LNG, says economist

A leading U.S. economist says a large natural gas pipeline project is vital to the state’s economic future and that the state should cooperate with experienced large companies in developing the project rather than attempting a plan for the state to lead the project.

Doyon Ltd. plans third test well in Nenana Basin for 2016

Despite the slump in crude oil prices an Alaska Native corporation is pushing ahead with a multi-year exploration program in the Nenana Basin in Interior Alaska and will drill a third test well in 2016, Doyon Ltd. CEO Aaron Schutt said Aug. 13.

Doyon will drill the Toghotthele No. 1 test well near where two earlier tests were drilled, in a area about 60 miles southwest of Fairbanks.

LNG purchase denied after Hilcorp rejects new terms

Alaska Attorney General Craig Richards has rejected the proposed purchase by Harvest Alaska of a small liquefied natural gas plant at Point MacKenzie, and the action is drawing criticism as well as praise.

In a July 7 letter to Harvest, a subsidiary of Hilcorp Energy, Richards proposed changes in the LNG sales contract reached in November 2014 with Fairbanks Natural Gas, the existing plant owner that also operates a small gas utility serving about 1,100 business and residential customers in Fairbanks.

Fennica rejoins fleet, Shell seeks to drill for oil

Shell is continuing its drilling program in the Chukchi Sea. The company completed a “mud-line” cellar at its Burger J well location the weekend of Aug. 8, and the ice management vessel Fennica was to arrive on site on Aug. 12, federal agency and company officials said.

Without the Fennica and its cargo of a capping-stack device to be deployed in the event of a well blowout, Shell only has permits to work on “top holes,” or the upper part of a well and with no penetration of potential oil-bearing zones.

Attorney General denies LNG plant sale

Alaska Attorney General Craig Richards has rejected the proposed purchase by Harvest Alaska of a small liquefied natural gas plant at Port MacKenzie.

In a July 7 letter to Harvest, a subsidiary of Hilcorp Energy, Richards proposed changes in the LNG sales contract reached in November 2014 with Fairbanks Natural Gas, the existing plant owner that also operates a small gas utility serving about 1,100 business and residential customers in Fairbanks.

Premera files for 4.4% increase in small group plans

Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield, the dominant firm in the state’s health insurance market, has filed for a relatively modest 4.4 percent increase for its small group plans in 2016, which is down from the 5.26 percent increase filed last year for 2015.

The 2016 increase is only proposed and has not yet been approved by the state Division of Insurance, Premera spokeswoman Melanie Coon said.

ConocoPhillips overcoming viscous oil challenges

Producers have wrestled for three decades with technical problems on how to produce a vast resource of “viscous,” or lower-quality, oil on the North Slope.

Viscous oil is thicker than conventional crude oil and does not flow as easily. It is not heavy oil, although it is sometimes called that.

BP and ExxonMobil seek more Prudhoe gas

BP and ExxonMobil, two of the three major Prudhoe Bay field owners, have applied to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for an increase in the allowable volume of natural gas that can be produced and sold from the North Slope field.

The AOGCC, a quasi-judicial state regulatory commission with oversight of oil and gas production practices, has set a public hearing date of Aug. 27.

Shell rigs poised to drill in Chukchi prospects

Shell’s two drilling vessels are in the Chukchi Sea and ready to drill, Shell and federal agency sources said July 29. Meanwhile, environmental groups are staging their usual stunts in Portland, Ore., where a Shell-leased ice management vessel was sent for repairs.

Hilcorp to resume heavy oil tests at Milne Point field

Hilcorp Energy hopes to take a new look at a massive heavy oil accumulation in the Milne Point field of the North Slope, where Hilcorp is the field operator and a 50 percent-owner with partner BP.

The company is considering a restart of a test production program from the Ugnu formation that was operated by BP for several years but then suspended in 2013, Hilcorp spokeswoman Lori Nelson confirmed.

BP conducted a four-well production test in the Ugnu formation, and achieved a rate of 600 barrels per day in some tests.

ConocoPhillips puts Inlet fields up for sale

ConocoPhillips is getting out of the natural gas production business in Cook Inlet.

The company has put its Inlet gas assets up for sale and plans to open a data room for prospective buyers.

However, the company’s liquefied natural gas plant at Nikiski is not included in the assets for sale, company spokeswoman Amy Burnett said.  

Effect of troop cuts may be muted

The U.S. Army’s decision to reduce personnel at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson by 2,600 troops sent shock waves through Anchorage when the announcement came July 9.

However, after several days of thinking through the implications, community leaders and some economists think the actual effects of the reduction will be relatively light.

“Do we like this decision? No. It is the end of the world? No,” said Bill Popp, president of Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

Another round of Slope methane hydrate research planned

Another test of methane hydrates on the North Slope, a potential huge new gas resource, is being planned.

State officials are in discussions with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp., or JOGMC on possible joint-sponsorship, and talks are planned with North Slope producers about potential sites for a test within one of the operating units on the Slope, Commissioner of Natural Resources Mark Myers said.

Shell presses on despite issues with vessel

Shell’s summer Chukchi Sea exploration is facing its share of glitches. The striking of a shallow, uncharted shoal by the ice management vessel Fennica, part of Shell’s support fleet, resulted in hull damage that is sending it back to the Pacific Northwest for repairs.

The Fenneca, being guided by a licensed Alaska marine pilot, hit an the uncharted obstacle while departing Dutch Harbor July 3.

A temporary patch can be put on in that Aleutians port but a permanent repair must be done at a shipyard and that will be in Vigor Industrial’s Portland, Oregon yard, Shell said.

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