AJOC EDITORIAL: Walker pulls rug from under explorers

Oh, the vagaries of print journalism.

Our original cover story for this Oil & Gas Reporter was a profile of Corri Feige, the new director of the state Oil and Gas Division, and her effort to put the welcome mat out for new explorers coming to Alaska.

After Gov. Bill Walker’s announcement June 30 that he was vetoing $200 million in tax credits for explorers with no tax liability, that headline quickly became obsolete.

The subject of another article in this issue — an Australian-Houston venture to drill an exploration in a North Slope shale play — could also become moot based on Walker’s announcement to “start a discussion” about exploration credits by using his veto to delay payment of $200 million for which companies may be eligible.

The venture by 88 Energy had just secured $50 million from Bank of America on June 24 to finance the project, and our reporter Tim Bradner wrote the effort could be eligible for up to 85 percent of its costs covered through the state exploration credit program. It’s unknown at this point what the impact of Walker’s decision will be on that project, but it’s not likely to be positive.

Consider what Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck told the Senate Finance Committee Back on Jan. 28 after Walker first flagged the issue of the tax credits as “unsustainable” in a Jan. 8 opinion article.

“Investments in the future, when you don’t have much revenue, are painful. But they’re still investments in the future,” Hoffbeck said.

According to the Associated Press report on the hearing, “Hoffbeck said there is no systemic problem with the credits themselves. He said this is a cash-flow issue, driven by low prices.”

It wouldn’t be the first time that Walker and his staff haven’t been on the same page. Later in the session, members of his team who’d been briefed on the Alaska LNG Project told legislators they were pleased with what they’d learned.

That night, Walker dropped another op-ed expressing his goal to pursue a parallel, expanded state-owned gas pipeline project in case the Alaska LNG Project did not proceed.

Thankfully, the Legislature killed Walker’s pipe dream by reappropriating money from the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. to prevent any funds from being spent on a competing project to AK LNG.

Once again, Walker has done what he seems to do best: throw uncertainty at the state’s most important industry in the name of populist pandering.

Although he claimed the opposite at his July 1 press conference, Walker had plenty of time and opportunity to weigh in on whether to shore up the budget deficit by capping or delaying credit payments to explorers — an idea Democrats were pushing nonstop — but he waited until now to do it.

It is true that everyone in the state will feel the squeeze of budget cuts, but it is also true that agencies have also had plenty of time and opportunity to prepare for how to absorb them.

What Walker’s action does is give pause to any company operating now or considering investing in the state because they’ll have no idea what the rules of the game will be or when the next time they will change without warning.

And some folks — like the governor — wonder why the major Slope producers are making fiscal certainty on oil and gas taxes the keystone of any decision to proceed with the Alaska LNG Project.

Updated: 
07/01/2015 - 3:02pm

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