Groups sue to top Liberty offshore oil project

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Five conservation groups filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to block oil production from a proposed artificial gravel island in federal Arctic waters. The groups asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review an offshore production plan approved for the Liberty project in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska's north coast. The groups said the plan violates federal law governing outer continental shelf drilling, the environment and endangered species. The Trump administration failed to consider impacts of an oil spill in remote Arctic waters or effects of drilling on polar bears and other endangered species, said Kristen Monsell of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued. "An oil spill in the Arctic would be impossible to clean up in a region already stressed by climate change," she said. Drilling law requires the administration to reject development if the risks to the human and marine environment outweigh the benefits of oil extraction. That includes both spills and climate change, Monsell said. "Here the agency used the totally inadequate analysis that actually found that the 'no action' alternative — not approving the project — would actually result in more greenhouse gas emissions, which is just completely ridiculous on its face, and also ridiculous given the modeling they used," Monsell said. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management did not immediately respond to an email request for comment Monday. BOEM in October approved a plan submitted by Houston-based Hilcorp for production wells on an island proposed in 19 feet (5.8 meters) of water about 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) off shore. The site is 15 miles (24 kilometers) east of Prudhoe Bay, North America's largest oil field. Hilcorp plans to extract oil from federal leases sold in the 1990s. BP Exploration Alaska drilled at the site in 1997 and sold 50 percent of the assets to Hilcorp in 2014. The base of the gravel island would cover 24 acres of ocean floor, about the size of 18 football fields, with sloped sides leading to a work surface of 9 acres, the size of nearly seven football fields. To create the island, trucks would travel by ice road to a hole cut in sea ice and deposit 83,000 cubic yards (63,450 million cubic meters) of gravel. The surface would have room for 16 wells. Hilcorp anticipates extracting 80 million to 130 million barrels over 15 to 20 years. Hilcorp proposes to move oil to shore by buried pipe. Liberty would be the 19th artificial drilling island in Alaska, including four now pumping oil from state waters. Liberty spokeswoman Lori Nelson did not respond to a request for comment Monday. The four other groups suing are Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife and Pacific Environment. They're represented by environmental law firm Earthjustice.  

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]

It may be time to stop itemizing your taxes

Around this time of year, many taxpayers begin the annual ritual of pondering The Big Question: Do I take the standard deduction or spend time hunting for receipts and filling out extra forms to itemize? The decision largely boils down to whether itemizing will reduce your taxable income more than the flat, no-questions-asked standard deduction will, thus saving you money. But a major plot twist may make the issue even more vexing for some this tax season: The standard deduction nearly doubled in 2018 to $12,000 for single filers, $18,000 for heads of household and $24,000 for joint filers. Generally, that means that a married couple filing jointly, for example, would now need to cobble together at least $24,001 in various tax deductions for itemizing to lower their tax bill more than taking the standard deduction would. It’s a change that’s sure to leave some longtime itemizers wondering whether the standard deduction is actually the thriftier option this year. Here are four things tax pros say could indicate that it’s time to stop itemizing and take the standard deduction. 1. You didn’t pay a lot of mortgage interest The tax deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes have been boons to itemizers because they often add up to more than the standard deduction, says Andrew McCue, a certified public accountant at Weiss &Company in Glenview, Illinois. But if you didn’t pay much in property taxes, had a small mortgage or were at the tail end of your mortgage (where the payments were mostly toward principal and not much interest), these itemized deductions may not save you as much this year as the standard deduction could. “If those are adding up to a substantial amount, that’s when you want to look at it and look at the standard deduction,” he says. 2. You used the deduction for state and local taxes The federal deduction for state and local income taxes is popular among itemizers, but a new cap of $10,000 for joint filers this year means some people may be better off taking the standard deduction instead, McCue says. But even with the cap in place, taxpayers who also have deductible mortgage interest might still save more by itemizing this year, he says. “In Illinois, it’s not hard for me to say I’ve got $6,000 of property taxes, but that varies a lot state to state,” he says. Add in another $6,000 for mortgage interest, and “just with those two items, you’re at the standard deduction for an individual,” he says. 3. You didn’t donate a lot to charity Charitable donations are a well-known tax deduction for itemizers, but if this year’s higher standard deduction gets you a bigger tax break, the tax-deductibility of your gifts may be a moot point, says Kasey Pittman, a CPA at Newport News, Virginia-based accounting firm PBMares. “They’re not going to see that added benefit from donations, and I think once they figure that out, they’ll learn to plan their donations and to be more thoughtful about what year they give in and such,” she says. For example, giving $5,000 to a favorite charity once every five years could save more money than giving $1,000 every year for five years. That’s because “bunched” donations, when combined with other itemized deductions, could get you over the higher standard-deduction threshold and make itemizing worthwhile financially, Pittman says. 4. You didn’t have huge medical expenses In general, unreimbursed medical expenses that are more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income may be deductible if you itemize, says Travis McMurray, a CPA at accounting firm Blackburn, Childers &Steagall in Tennessee. But the higher standard deduction could still be a better option. “Quite honestly, you’d have to have a pretty significant medical event for that to kick in, or your income must be pretty low,” he says. ^ This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet.

State investigating death at Hilcorp operation on Slope

State agencies and oil field companies are investigating the death of a worker killed Friday in a “pipe mishandling incident” at a North Slope field operated by Hilcorp Alaska, according to a state official. New but limited details emerged Dec. 11 about the early-morning fatality at Milne Point field. Hilcorp, a company that has previously come under investigation for multiple safety violations, and contractor Kuukpik Drilling, the worker’s employer, declined to provide information about the accident while the case is under investigation. “It’s a pretty emotional time for all of us,” said Kenny Overvold, general manager of Kuukpik Drilling, with about 50 employees. He said the companies are conducting internal investigations and cooperating with agencies. “At this point we don’t have anything new to release,” he said. Claire Pywell, with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said the fatality occurred at 3 a.m. Dec. 7. An investigator with the Alaska Occupational Safety Health and Division flew to the scene that day, she said. The victim’s name has not been released, a step awaiting family notification procedures, Pywell said. Hollis French, chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said he spoke with Dave Wilkins, senior vice president of Hilcorp Alaska, on Friday. Wilkins characterized the death as resulting from a “pipe mishandling incident,” according to French. The worker was struck by heavy drilling pipe, French said. “It looks like a piece of pipe was mishandled on the rig floor,” French said. “They were laying down pipe,” he said, requiring sections of pipe to be moved during a drilling operation. Hilcorp spokeswoman Lori Nelson provided a statement Dec. 11 that “the cause of the incident is not known.” “We are deeply saddened by this news and our thoughts and prayers with their family and loved ones,” the statement said. Kenai radio station KSRM reported the incident Dec. 7, noting that drilling operations were suspended following the fatality. French said the AOGCC is monitoring the investigation and will review details when it’s complete, he said. The incident does not appear to be a violation of AOGCC procedures, he said. In an earlier incident at Milne Point in 2015, the agency investigated the near-suffocation of three contractors for Hilcorp that improperly used nitrogen gas during a well clean-out, forcing oxygen to be displaced from a trailer where the men were working. That led to a $200,000 fine from the agency. It also prompted a close look at Hilcorp missteps at its operations in Alaska, said French. AOGCC later released a lengthy list of Hilcorp violations dating back to 2012, not long after the Houston, Texas-based company began operating in Alaska. But AOGCC later credited the company for taking steps to prevent future problems. The improvements included the company’s Cook Inlet operations, after one of its sub-sea natural gas pipelines leaked for months before sea ice cleared enough for divers to safely repair it in spring 2017. In October, Hilcorp completed a $90 million project to move oil across the Inlet by subsea pipe instead of tankers, a step long sought by watchdog groups.

Tighter restrictions for charter halibut likely in 2019

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved preliminary regulations for the halibut charter sector in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska during its recent meeting in Anchorage, but the final rules still depend on what the International Pacific Halibut Commission decides about quotas. The council members approved measures to outline fishing time and retention in regulatory areas 2C and 3A, depending on the final limits determined by the International Pacific Halibut Commission this January. In area 2C, which encompasses Southeast Alaska, the proposed limit is a reverse slot limit of one fish per day either shorter than 38 inches or longer than 80 inches. In area 3A, which encompasses the Central Gulf of Alaska between Yakutat and the Alaska Peninsula, the restrictions will be a little looser than in Southeast. Charter anglers are allowed to keep two fish per day with a four-fish annual limit, with one fish capped at a maximum of 28 inches long. Additionally, there won’t be any fish retention on Wednesdays. While the Southeast charter sector was about 10 percent less than its allocation limit in 2018, the Central Gulf charter sector exceeded its limits, running about 4 percent over its allocation. Some of the restrictions proposed by the council are meant to help bring that sector back in line, such as closing additional Tuesdays. In an analysis provided to the council, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game outlined how halibut harvest would drop with each additional closed Tuesday — at the high end, if all Tuesdays were closed, it would drop about 8.2 percent. At status quo, charter operators would lose about six Tuesdays through the season, plus Wednesdays being entirely closed. However, even if management and effort stay status quo, total catch may still drop because all areas are showing a decline in harvest per unit of effort, or HPUE, according to the ADFG analysis. “The weighted average HPUE forecast for Area 3A overall is 1.18 halibut per angler-trip,” the analysis states. “Glacier Bay, Yakutat, North Gulf Coast, and Kodiak subareas had HPUEs of less than 1 halibut per angler-trip, reflecting the lower retention of second fish in the bag limit in those areas.” Due to falling halibut abundance in the Gulf of Alaska and near Southeast, the council has been adding more regulations and cutting allocations in an attempt to protect the stocks. This year, the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s stock status report showed yet another drop in biomass — 7 percent in the Gulf of Alaska and 15 percent in the Southeast area. The commission will meet in January to discuss final quota setting, but with decreasing biomass, fishermen may see yet another cut across both the charter and commercial sectors. Under the reference catch levels for 2019, all Tuesdays could be opened and there wouldn’t be a need for any other closed days, according to the analysis. The council’s Charter Halibut Management Committee supported the regulations the council ultimately adopted, noting that if the IPHC’s allocation came in ultimately greater than 2.023 million pounds, the managers could increase the lower end of the over-under limit to 30 inches from 28 inches. The committee also urged the members to opt for a more conservative management regime for area 3A than is technically necessary. The committee noted in its minutes that its members also recommended more conservative regulations for the area in 2018, which the council members did not ultimately approve. Many of those who submitted comments noted that while they didn’t love the additional restrictions, they understood the necessity for conservation. Multiple commenters touched on a frustration that the council has yet to address: the lack of comparable restrictions on private angler and subsistence halibut harvest. Matt Kopec, owner of Whittier Marine Charters and Whittier Boat Rentals and serves on the Charter Halibut Management Committee, noted that his area has seen a significant increase in private boat traffic. “From what I have seen, private boaters are far more successful in harvesting halibut than rental boat customers,” he wrote in a letter to the council. “They fish much more and they’ve simply gotten good at it. While I’m still not sure that current data suggests that any restriction is needed, they should be considered before stricter regulations are placed on guided anglers, especially if you’re looking at limiting the catch of anglers on rental boats. Perhaps a new ‘sport’ allocation for all sport anglers that is linked to abundance would be a clean and simple answer.” Noting those concerns from users, the council has discussed actions to regulate the halibut boat rental business, in which businesses rent boats to private anglers without a guide so they are not subject to the charter sector restrictions. A private angler may keep two fish of any size per day. The Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles already requires registration of motor boats, so the council members have debated whether to add more regulations to keep a closer watch on the sector, including aligning the bag limits on both. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Dunleavy plans to release amended budget in January

JUNEAU — Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s full vision for Alaska’s budget will wait until January. In an interview with reporters before the start of the holiday open house Dec. 11 at the Governor’s Mansion in Juneau, Alaska’s new governor said he will use a modified version of former Gov. Bill Walker’s budget in order to meet a legal deadline. State law requires the governor to publicly release a budget proposal by Dec. 15 each year. “We’re going to roll it out probably on the 14th,” Dunleavy said. “It’s going to have some slight changes from what the governor (Walker) did because we need a little more time to actually put our stamp on it and spend some time working through the details with the different departments.” Dunleavy said the document coming this week will be amended “in January.” Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Laura Cramer confirmed Dunleavy’s schedule as accurate. The governor said Alaskans should expect his budget will follow his campaign promises. “Public safety is job No. 1, making sure we have a balanced budget, putting our resources to work so we can get people back to work, and paying a full dividend,” he said. When it comes to a “full dividend,” Dunleavy confirmed that he means a dividend paid on the statutory formula and the repayment of portions of the dividend vetoed by Walker and cut by prior sessions of the Alaska Legislature. That proposal is expected to cost about $4 billion. Earlier in the day, Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation executive director Angela Rodell told the Daily News that she is planning for a $2.9 billion draw from the Permanent Fund next fiscal year. That amount was set by the Alaska Legislature last year as part of a plan for sustainable spending from the fund. “Everything about this administration is going to be about making things sustainable over the long term,” Dunleavy said, but Permanent Fund trustees have repeatedly warned about the dangers of withdrawing more money from the fund than called for under a “rules-based” approach. Earlier this year, they approved a resolution asking elected officials to keep within the rules, the better to allow investment officers to reduce risks to the state’s investments. Even staying within those rules carries some risks. In 2017, an independent analysis found that the fund stands a 50-50 chance of losing value and a significant chance of losing all of its investment earnings, which are held in an account unprotected by the Alaska Constitution. Speaking on other matters Dec. 11, Dunleavy said he will leave Alaska Dec. 12 for Washington, D.C. and meetings with President Donald Trump, the Secretary of the Department of Transportation, officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal representatives regarding recovery efforts following the Nov. 30 Southcentral earthquake. “We’re still in the process of plugging in a few more appointments,” Dunleavy said of his itinerary. He said he has not yet named a new commissioner for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and is “still working over that particular appointment.”

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]

Saudi Arabia allies with Russia as OPEC’s power wanes

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries likes to look united. That’s evident when OPEC leaders meet in Vienna at the end of each year to decide how much oil its members will aim to produce the next year. There is always a show of togetherness and the appearance of the quasi-cartel’s ability to move markets. But the truth is, OPEC is in the midst of a major crisis made more evident by Qatar’s announcement that it would be leaving OPEC, partly to protest Saudi dominance over the group. My research has taken me through the history of oil, particularly the relationship between oil revenues, economic development and the geopolitical balance of power in the 1960s and 1970s. I believe that rather than the arbiter of global energy, OPEC has often been held back by division, disagreement and divergent interests. This weakness helps explain why OPEC has struggled to move markets in effective ways since the 2014 collapse of oil prices. The latest production cuts, which were bigger than expected but followed considerable acrimony, are further proof that OPEC’s disunity remains intact. Early days: Divided and powerless OPEC was formed from frustration. In the 1950s, the world was awash in oil as small nations in the Middle East and Latin America discovered enormous deposits. To gain access to those deposits, the major oil companies, known as the “Seven Sisters,” signed concessionary agreements with local governments. This arrangement gave the companies control over the oil — they set production levels and prices — while governments simply collected a check. In February 1959, amid an oil glut, the Seven Sisters decided that a price correction was necessary. Acting unilaterally, they cut the price of oil, from US$2.08 to $1.80 by August 1960. That may sound odd today, but back then oil prices didn’t always follow market forces and were typically set by the companies. The cuts meant a significant loss of revenue for the oil-producing states. In protest, the oil ministers of Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait met in Baghdad that September and formed OPEC to achieve a more equitable arrangement with the Seven Sisters. Algeria, Qatar, Indonesia and Libya joined later. But the big oil exporters like Iran and Saudi Arabia could do little to coerce the companies. Oil was abundant, and the companies could successfully exclude any country from the market, as they did with Iran in 1951. OPEC did not possess enough market share or unity to pressure the companies into surrendering control over price. A new balance of power OPEC couldn’t agree on a consistent policy among its members. Saudi Arabia wanted to keep production levels low and prices consistent. Iran wanted prices pushed as high as possible in order to maximize revenue. According to Ian Skeet, a scholar and an oil consultant, the shah of Iran sought a separate agreement that sabotaged an attempt to extract more favorable terms from the Seven Sisters in 1963. During the 1960s, OPEC failed to form a united front. Nevertheless, things were changing. Demand for oil shot up and U.S. production stagnated. The Seven Sisters’ power was undermined by international competitors drilling new fields in North Africa, where Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi threatened to shut off supply if he didn’t get higher prices. Oil giants faced more pressure to deliver better terms to producing governments. These conditions, while not the result of OPEC’s actions, gave it an opportunity to upset the balance of power. Embargo, revolution and crisis This shift accelerated in the 1970s as war broke out between Israel and its Arab neighbors in October 1973. To punish the U.S. for supporting the Jewish state, Arab oil producers (not all OPEC members, as popularly believed) cut production and declared an embargo against the United States. OPEC also demanded a higher oil price. After rejecting a small gesture from the Seven Sisters, OPEC announced it would double the price to $5 — then hiked it again to $11.65. How did the balance of power seem to shift so suddenly? Among other reasons, oil companies could not agree among themselves on a new oil price and they were tempted by the big profits that would result. OPEC seized control of the market largely due to circumstances beyond its control. Despite its victory, OPEC had come no closer to resolving its internal divisions. This became evident when the next energy crisis hit, in 1979, when Iran’s revolution broke out. Global oil markets panicked. Iranian production fell. And other OPEC members sold their own oil at costly premiums, sending the price even higher. Saudi Arabia tried to impose a quota system. Most members ignored their quotas or overproduced. Meanwhile, oil-importing countries like the U.S. and the U.K. sought improve fuel efficiency and invested in domestic oil production in places like Alaska the North Sea. By 1985, OPEC’s share of the global market had fallen below 30 percent. By 1986, Saudi Arabia had had enough. Without warning, its production shot up by more than 2 million barrels per day, flooding the market and pushing the average price down to $18 per barrel, about $39 today, according to oil company records. This move indicated Saudi willingness to use its massive reserves to “correct” the market and push out high-cost producers, even at the cost of its OPEC allies. Russia’s new role As OPEC’s fortunes have oscillated with increasing volatility since the 1986 shock, cooperation has remained elusive. In 2014, oil prices began to decline, due to increasing U.S. production. To squeeze out American drillers, Saudi Arabia pumped more oil, sending prices to historic inflation-adjusted lows in early 2016. But the move backfired: U.S. producers held on, while OPEC members like Venezuela endured enormous economic pain. To gain leverage, Saudi Arabia has partnered with Russia, a major oil exporter that doesn’t belong to OPEC, forming what some analysts have called OPEC+. The two countries now coordinate their production cuts to stabilize prices. OPEC+ minus one Not all OPEC members are happy about this arrangement, including Qatar, a small Persian Gulf state. It has been at odds with Saudi Arabia since 2017. In December 2018, Qatar announced it would be leaving OPEC to concentrate on liquefied natural gas exports. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump was imploring OPEC to pump more oil rather than less of it, to keep gasoline prices low. When OPEC+ met in Vienna it didn’t buckle. But the deal it reached followed considerable disagreement, which laid bare divisions within the group over how much oil output it should cut. In the end, Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed to do most of the cutting required to slash oil production by 1.2 million barrels per day. And Iran did not pledge any cuts at all. The overall cut was bigger than expected. But Iran’s defiance, Qatar’s departure and the fight over cuts underscores what has been true from the very beginning: OPEC projects unity, but behind the scenes the group struggles with division, disunity and differing interests. ^ Portions of this article appeared in a related article first published on June 2, 2016. The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. This article is republished from The Conversation through the Associated Press under a Creative Commons license.

Dismal outlook for Stikine, Taku king salmon continues in 2019

Poor king salmon runs predicted for the Stikine and Taku rivers in Southeast Alaska are prompting “extreme conservation” measures, likely resulting in less fishing time for commercial and recreational fishermen. The Stikine is expected to see a terminal run of 8,250 large fish, while the Taku is expected to see a run of 9,050 large fish, according to the forecast published by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Nov. 30. Neither run is large enough to meet the allowable catch by the U.S. or Canada and both are less than the lower end of the escapement goal ranges. On the Stikine, the escapement goal range is 14,000 to 28,000 large fish; on the Taku, it’s 19,000 to 36,000 fish. ADFG allowed a commercial opening in 2016 on the Stikine after years of struggling runs, held in May. The 2017 season brought restrictions but no full closures for sport fishing on the Stikine. The 2018 forecast again came out poor with no king salmon fishing allowed on either the Stikine or the Taku for kings. The Taku River king run has been struggling for years, hitting its record low in 2016. It was closed to directed fisheries from 1974-2004, until larger runs prompted openings in 2005, according to ADFG. Recent years have brought more low runs, leading to restrictions and closures for king salmon fishing across Southeast Alaska. ADFG managers could not be reached for comment as of deadline. The Taku and Stikine are two of the 12 “indicator” stocks listed by ADFG, or king salmon runs the department watches to track the regional health of king salmon runs in Alaska. The indicator stock project began as part of the Chinook Salmon Research Initiative, a massive statewide project that arose under Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration following major declines in king salmon returns starting around 2007. The program’s funding was eliminated as the state budget was cut since oil prices started falling in 2014. Both the Stikine and Taku are transboundary rivers, which begin in Canada and pass through Southeast Alaska on their way to the ocean. As such, their salmon runs are subject to the Pacific Salmon Treaty, negotiated between the U.S. and Canada. The fisheries are managed by abundance rather than by hard caps, allowing the managers to adjust for the size of the run. The two countries reached an agreement for another 10-year extension of the treaty Sept. 18, depending on both fleets allowing more king salmon through to Canada: a 7.5 percent reduction for Alaska and a 12.5 percent reduction for Canada. The final agreement was sent to both governments for final approval. Southeast Alaska fishermen have had several tough salmon seasons in a row. Record low abundances of king salmon led to early closures in 2017 and restrictions and poor fishing in 2018. On top of that, Southeast fishermen have had three poor pink salmon harvests in a row — 2016 brought disastrously low returns and 2017 was an off year with lower numbers. This summer, however, was even worse than 2016. Significantly less than preseason forecasts, the pink salmon harvest was the lowest in decades. The upcoming 2019 season is predicted to be a weak run as well, in part based on low numbers of juveniles in 2018 connected to poor survival among the 2017 brood year. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Stability amid new adminstration at Permanent Fund Corp.

JUNEAU — New Alaska Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy has made sweeping changes to the management of state agencies since taking office Dec. 3, but in the first meeting of the Alaska Permanent Fund Board of Trustees since his term began, stability was the word of the day. “Stability is going to be critical,” said new Department of Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman, who, along with Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige, took his seat as a corporation trustee Dec. 11 in Juneau at the start of the corporation’s regular quarterly meeting. Tangeman said that when it comes to the Dunleavy administration and the Permanent Fund Corp., “there’s no grand plan coming out of the gate.” No one at the corporation, whose headquarters is in Juneau, received resignation requests sent to more than 800 state employees by the new administration, and CEO Angela Rodell remains at the helm as she was under the Walker administration. The corporation also was not included in the administrative order issued by the governor last week. That order broadened the powers of the Office of Management and Budget, allowing it to absorb the budgetary machinery within various state agencies. During his campaign for governor, Dunleavy pledged to “pay Alaskans back the money owed to them after three years of dividend cuts.” Doing so would cost $3,733 per dividend recipient. Multiplied by the 593,000 recipients mentioned by interim dividend division director Anne Weske in October, the cost is $2.2 billion. Dunleavy also pledged to use the traditional dividend formula enshrined in state law, then put it into the Alaska Constitution. That formula would result in a dividend of just more than $3,000 in 2019, for a total of $1.8 billion. The $4 billion price tag for Dunleavy’s dividend plan would rise if there are more recipients. In an interview after his election win, the governor said he would look to the Permanent Fund — and specifically the reserve account that contains its investment earnings — to pay for the idea. That will require spending above and beyond the sustainable plan approved by Alaska legislators last year. According to figures presented Dec. 11 to the corporation’s board of trustees, the corporation will make $2.93 billion available to lawmakers for appropriation in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. Rodell told the Daily News that so far, the corporation has not changed its expectations and is not planning to make more money available. We “need to see bills and legislation” before changing investments, she said. Earlier this year, the corporation’s board of trustees renewed their request for Alaska’s elected officials to abide by a “sustainable, rules-based approach” for spending from the Permanent Fund. Trustees have also requested the Legislature continue to provide inflation-proofing payments to the fund. In 2017, the Fund’s performance suffered when lawmakers briefly considered using the Permanent Fund to balance the state’s deficit and avoid a more politically difficult maneuver to spend money from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. The prospect of needing to come up with billions of dollars for the state treasury caused fund managers to pull money from longer-term investments into more liquid ones, hurting returns. Chief Investment Officer Marcus Frampton told trustees Dec. 11 that since lawmakers passed their sustainable-draw plan, the fund has been providing the state treasury with money on an installment basis rather than a lump multibillion-dollar sum at the start of the fiscal year. That allows the Permanent Fund to hold on to investments longer than it might otherwise, increasing earnings. “If you can keep an extra $100 million in the fund for nine months, it’s worth it,” Board of Trustees chairman Craig Richards said. The state treasury department has also allowed the Permanent Fund to vary its payments based on the needs of the treasury. When oil prices are higher than expected, it has delayed asking the Fund for money the Legislature appropriated. That allows fund managers to hold on to investments slightly longer. “If there were huge volatilities in the amounts, that could be really challenging to manage. I think that’s worth Revenue keeping in mind,” Frampton said.

Movers and Shakers for Dec. 16

Northrim BanCorp Inc. announced that Aaron M. Schutt has been appointed to the board of directors, effective immediately. Schutt is currently president and CEO of Doyon Ltd., an Alaskan Native regional corporation and one of the state’s largest land owners. In 2004, Schutt was named as a recipient of the Alaska Journal of Commerce’s Top Forty Under 40 award. After graduation from Stanford Law School, Schutt clerked for Alaska Supreme Court Justice Alexander Bryner. He holds a master’s degree in civil engineering from Stanford University, and graduated with honors as an S. Town Stephenson scholar from Washington State University with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Leaders of five Alaska nonprofit organizations received 2019 Rasmuson Foundation Sabbatical Awards. They will have three to six months in the coming year to unplug from demanding jobs to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. The awards, for $40,000 each, help cover the leader’s salary and costs of travel and other experiences during the time away. Each must commit to returning to their job for at least a year. Research shows that sabbaticals usually lead to much longer commitments to nonprofit work. The new awardees are as follows. Alicia Andrew, president and tribal administrator, Karluk IRA Tribal Council, has worked for the tribal council more than 30 years, a demanding position that allows for little personal time. Kay Clements, general manager, Lynn Canal Broadcasting–KHNS in Haines, helped found a community radio station in Marin County, Calif., back in 1995 and has worked in community radio ever since and in Haines since 2011. Lainie Dreas, executive director, Alaska Junior Theater, has worked 22 years for performing arts organizations including 12 as head of Alaska Junior Theater. Mary Middleton, executive director, Stone Soup Group, provides support and resources for families caring for children with special needs. She has worked 25 years for nonprofits while raising children including a son with autism. Tara Riemer, president and CEO of the Alaska SeaLife Center, has worked 15 years for the center including six as CEO. The Anchorage office of global architecture, engineering, and consulting firm Stantec recently expanded its team supporting the oil and gas industry in Alaska. Joining team are William Cobb, PE, and Jenny Iwinski. Additionally, Nick Arnold, PE, was promoted to project manager. Cobb is a senior mechanical engineer with more than 20 years of experience in the oil and gas industry, working on both onshore and offshore facilities. He has focused on drilling engineering, surface facility engineering, pipeline engineering and project management. He is a U.S. Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Florida, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in both mechanical and civil engineering. Iwinski joins Stantec as its projects control lead for petroleum work. She has more than 10 years of experience in the Alaska oil and gas industry, working on projects ranging in value from $1 million to $8 billion. She has worked on projects with multiple oil and gas clients, including Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., ConocoPhillips Alaska, BP and the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. She is a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage. Arnold joined Stantec in 2017 as a project engineer, and in his new project management role, he is responsible for the delivery of a wide variety of projects for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. He has 10 years of experience in the oil and gas industry and is a registered project management professional. He is a graduate of the University of Idaho. Northrim Bank announced two new hires and two promotions. New hires are Glenn Schmitz, Cybersecurity Program manager and Kristi Dent, consumer lender. Promotions are Anita DeVore, vice president, regional sales and service manager, and Maia Hernandez, associate vice president, branch manager float team. Schmitz joins Northrim Bank with 24 years of IT and cybersecurity experience with the U.S. Air Force. He holds a bachelor’s degree in information technology management from Trident University International. Schmitz is the current president of the local International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium Chapter. Dent comes to Northrim Bank after working at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union for the past nine years. She has worked in consumer lending for three years and holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Western Governor’s University. DeVore has been with Northrim Bank for more than 14 years. She has more than 25 years of experience in the banking industry. DeVore holds a Series 65 securities license as an investment advisor representative for Northrim Investment Services. She received Northrim’s President’s Award in 2013. Hernandez joined Northrim Bank in 2015 and has 11 years of experience in the industry, starting as a teller and advancing to a business banker, and float manager. She is a first generation immigrant and moved to Alaska from the Philippines in 2002. Anchorage-based telecommunications company Quintillion has named Michael J. “Mac” McHale, Jr. as chief revenue officer, responsible for guiding business growth as the company evolves into the next phases of its international fiber project. McHale comes to Quintillion after 16 years as principal at Expansion Services LLC, a telecom manage- ment and advisory services company based in Scottsdale, Ariz. During his 30-year career McHale has held senior management and “C” level positions in some of the most recognizable U.S. telecommunications/technology companies including IBM, Teleport Communications Group, Metropolitan Fiber Systems/MFS Communications, XO Communications, Hawaiian Tel and Innovative Communications. Quintillion’s subsea fiber optic cable system has been serving the northern Alaska communities of Utqiagvik, Wainwright, Point Hope, Kotzebue and Nome since Dec. 1, 2017. As a carrier’s carrier, Quintillion provides Gig-E bandwidth services enabling high speed broadband products and capabilities to consumers, businesses and government clients in these communities.

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]

FISH FACTOR: Sisters from Homer, Chevak team up on skin care products

An Alaskan sisterhood of sorts is advancing a line of tundra botanicals mixed with the sea to create potent anti-aging skin care products bearing the best of both. A wild salmon Skin Serum is the first wellness product the Salmon Sisters have added to their popular line that features original designs on clothing and other ocean-themed goods. “We love how smooth and light it feels. There are beautiful notes of crowberries, which we picked throughout our childhood on the tundra behind our homestead to make jam and pies. It doesn’t smell fishy, but the salmon oil gives it a silkiness that feels very nostalgic of Alaskan summers at fish camp,” said Emma Teal Laukitis. She and sister Claire Neaton of Homer have become two of Alaska’s most well-known seafood industry ambassadors with features in Vogue, a Microsoft television ad, the Forbes’ 30 under 30 list, and their now famous legacy designs on XtraTuf boots. The crowberries in the serum are gathered from the tundra by the Sparck triplets, along with fireweed and Arctic sage (or “Ciaggluk,” meaning “nothing bad about it,”) explained Michelle (Macuarr’uq) of Chevak, who along with Cika (Ji-kah) and Amy (Kelama) operate ArXotica. Along with their own Quyung-lii brand, the Sparck sisters are producing the Skin Serum for the Salmon Sisters. ArXotica has gained fame since 2006 for its “Tundra Loving Care” products that “harness the unparalleled properties of extreme environment flora to create a super status skin care line.” “Right now we are working with the Salmon Sisters’ vision, and they are very good at design and packaging and marketing. We are hoping they will add their own magic touch to their skin care line,” said Michelle. “We love ArXotica products because they are made with ingredients unique to our state with a rich history of wellness and healing,” said Emma. “We have grown up with the wholistic benefits of wild Alaska salmon and their nutrients allow us to stay sharp and healthy and feel beautiful. It is a superfood for your skin!” The salmon/skin benefits have been borne out by other advocates. Famed New York Fifth Avenue doctor Nicholas Perricone’s bestselling books promise that eating wild salmon for 28 days is the cure for wrinkles and provides a “nutrition based face lift.” Scientists in Norway discovered a skin softening enzyme called zonase in the hatching fluid of salmon eggs that helps digest the protein structure of the shells without harming the tiny fish. A company called Aqua Bio Technology uses the enzyme in its AquaBeautine XL skin care lotion. ArXotica is now expanding into men’s and unisex products using their anti-aging serums mixed with ground mammoth tooth and will soon introduce a bearded seal oil item. “It’s for men’s beards. There’s no seal in it but we’re playing on an item that people still eat out in western Alaska,” Michelle said with a laugh. Naknek Plans Expo No. 3 It’s months away but plans already are underway for the third Bristol Bay Fish Expo on June 9 and 10 in Naknek. Naknek swells from about 400 to 12,000 people as the world’s biggest sockeye fishery gets underway each summer, and it’s the hub for 10 major processors and a fleet of nearly 1,000 boats. Bringing the industry and community together is a main impetus for the event; the bigger goal is to raise money for Little Angels Childcare Academy. “We are so fortunate because unlike many nonprofits that are always concerned about income, thanks to the Fish Expo we are doing very well,” said Katie Copps, event co-organizer, adding that after expenses, about $35,000 was raised for childcare last year. One of the biggest moneymakers and fan favorites is a fashion show that includes wearable art. (A brailer bag ball gown by Nomar of Homer stole the show last year.) The fashions and hundreds more donated items are sold at live and silent auctions. Last year 56 exhibitors were on the show floor and Copps said room is being made for more, along with added food booths. Donations and for the fashion show, auction and sponsors are being accepted now. Early sign ups can choose their space from a floor plan at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com/ Blue economy buzz Using robots and bioengineered bacteria to refurbish old fishing boats took top honors at the recent Ocean Technology Innovation Sprint, or OTIS, at the Loussac Library in Anchorage. The Google-inspired sprint concept, hosted by the Alaska Ocean Cluster, brings entrepreneurs together to create prototype solutions to challenges of their choice within a set time. The OTIS event attracted 16 people who split into four teams over four weeks. Team Silver’s winning First Step Marine Refurbishment prototype was designed to create more value for Alaska’s aging fleet of fishing boats and other vessels by using robotics and bacteria to remove hull fouling, pollutants and paint. Team King came up with a FishStat Alaska Wet Ruler, a phone app that manages fishing licenses and regulations, identifies fish, and more. “It measures your catch, records where you caught it — it’s an alternative to traditional methods and makes it quick and easy in the field,” said Meg Pritchard, marketing and communications manager for the AOC. Team Coho conceptualized an Alaska Marine Biotechnology Institute that focuses on uses for sea organisms and systems. The Fan Favorite was Team Sockeye’s Happy Clam Portable PSP Tester. Just swab the shellfish with a test strip and the kit tells if it is safe to eat. The Alaska Ocean Cluster is modeled after a program that began decades ago in Iceland to connect entrepreneurs, academia and businesses and bring blue economy ideas to fruition. The Alaska Cluster acts as a mentor for incubating new businesses. “For people who want to keep going we have other programs, like our Blue Pipeline Initiative and our scale accelerator that takes viable business ideas and helps them scale up,” Pritchard said. The Cluster also hosts Ocean Tuesdays, a weekly webinar platform open to all to exchange blue economy ideas in Alaska and globally. The Alaska Ocean Cluster is funded by the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association in partnership with the University of Alaska’s Economic Development and Business Enterprise Institute. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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