Mat-Su Borough keeps up fight over LNG site

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough on Jan. 25 added 145 pages to its ongoing argument that Port MacKenzie would be a better location than Nikiski for the Alaska LNG project’s natural gas liquefaction plant and marine terminal. The borough, which owns the property across Knik Arm from Anchorage, added additional comments, maps, charts and photos to the docket at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is scheduled to release its draft environmental review of the Alaska LNG proposal sometime in February. The borough has long been critical of the site selection, Port MacKenzie alternative analysis and answers provided by the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., the state-funded corporation that is leading the proposed $43 billion project. “Unfortunately, the approach to analyzing the alternatives employed by AGDC in its responses confuses, rather than clarifies, the differences between the alternatives of Nikiski and Port MacKenzie, and its responses could result in an inadequate analysis of alternatives to AGDC’s proposed action,” the borough said in its latest filing with FERC. The borough’s Jan. 25 filing was in response to the state’s answers turned in at FERC on Nov. 20 after federal regulators had asked AGDC for further analysis of Port MacKenzie. The project’s environmental impact statement is required to review any economically feasible alternatives to determine the “least environmentally damaging practicable alternative.” The borough a year ago complained to federal regulators that AGDC may have violated the National Environmental Policy Act and federal Clean Water Act by “improperly and intentionally excluding” Port MacKenzie as a “reasonable alternative” for the proposed LNG plant. Asserting a list of geographical advantages, the borough has noted that Port MacKenzie offers more developable land and is about 50 pipeline miles closer to Prudhoe Bay than Nikiski, which is farther south on the Kenai Peninsula. Building at the port also would eliminate the need for 27 miles of underwater pipe across Cook Inlet to Nikiski. The borough has long promoted its money-losing port for the LNG project and other industrial developments, with little success. Nikiski emerged as the preferred alternative among more than two dozen options in October 2013, when North Slope oil and gas producers ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips were leading the venture. The state took 100 percent control of the project in late 2016 after the companies declined to proceed with spending hundreds of millions of dollars on additional engineering, design and permit applications. The state applied to FERC in April 2017. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Kenai Peninsula Borough (defending its community, Nikiski), and the City of Valdez (also promoting its community as the best location for the LNG plant), have all signed on as intervenors in the project’s application at FERC. Intervenor status does not bestow any special privileges or additional consideration in preparation of the EIS. The only significant difference between an intervenor and anyone else submitting comments to the docket is that only an intervenor can challenge a FERC decision in court. The Mat-Su and Kenai boroughs and AGDC are each paying different Washington, D.C., law firms with experience in FERC issues. If FERC stays with its self-imposed timeline of the draft EIS in February — no specific date set — it is scheduled to release its final EIS in November 2019, assuming it encounters no roadblocks or delays during the public comment period for the draft and assuming AGDC submits all the information requested by federal regulators. The state team has said it will be September before it can answer all of FERC’s questions about the Cook Inlet pipeline crossing. Regardless whether the project can stay on schedule with its FERC review, AGDC lacks funding to go past the past EIS. The new administration of Alaska Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy has said it is time “to re-engage the Legislature” and talk with the North Slope producers. This is a “great opportunity to pause and see where we’re at,” Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman said at the Alaska Support Industry Alliance annual Meet Alaska conference in Anchorage on Jan. 18. Absent any partners, the state has been paying 100 percent of the costs since the producers left two years ago. Among its objections to AGDC’s analysis, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough contends that the state development team did not accurately map out and consider the “optimum site” proposed by the borough. “As a result,” the borough said AGDC’s efforts “misidentify and overlook key features of Port MacKenzie.” The borough further contends in its Jan. 25 filing, that “Rather than assessing Port MacKenzie as a unique site, AGDC begins from the assumption that the same facilities specifically designed for Nikiski will be built at Port MacKenzie. This assumption is irrational and leads AGDC to overestimate the amount of construction necessary to site a liquefaction facility at Port MacKenzie. … Simply transposing plans developed for Nikiski onto a map of Port MacKenzie, as AGDC has done, will not fulfill FERC’s duty to analyze potential alternative sites.” “It appears that AGDC is justifying its preference for Nikiski over Port MacKenzie not based on technical feasibility and environmental impacts, but rather simply because AGDC has already completed design work for Nikiski but not Port MacKenzie,” the borough filing states. “While this need for additional design work might explain why AGDC prefers to site the facility at Nikiski, it is not relevant to FERC’s National Environmental Policy Act analysis and is not responsive to FERC’s data request regarding the specific differences in environmental impacts for each site.” The North Slope producers, before they left the project and AGDC since then, have consistently pointed to problems with the Port MacKenzie location, including stronger tidal currents and tidal ranges, more winter ice hampering operations, a narrower channel for vessel traffic, conflicts with other potential users at the port, and the significant regulatory problems of operating in critical habitat waters of the endangered Beluga whales. In a separate issue for the EIS, the state project team on Jan. 23 submitted hundreds of pages of data, maps, charts and tables to FERC, responding to questions from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the project’s effects on wetlands. Among the data submitted to the Army Corps and FERC: • AGDC reported the project would permanently impact 10,412 acres of wetlands during construction, with an additional 8,731 acres temporarily affected during the work. About 3,500 acres would be impacted during project operations. The acreage includes the 62-mile pipeline from the Port Thomson gas field to the gas treatment plant at Prudhoe Bay, the gas plant, the 807-mile pipeline from Prudhoe to Nikiski, and the LNG facility and marine terminal. The Jan. 23 filing includes a detailed list of the wetlands locations. • Additional information on AGDC’s plans for digging the trench and laying the pipe in wetlands, including protection and restoration plans. • AGDC expects to provide a draft wetlands mitigation plan in the second quarter of 2019. • Reiterating its plans not to remove gravel fill placed in wetlands, the AGDC filing said the project “would not actively restore sites where gravel fill is placed, but rather would leave it in place to encourage thermal and physical stabilization. As stated previously, it is not practicable for AGDC to restore wetlands where gravel fill is placed.” • For areas not covered in gravel fill, “while some impacted areas would be converted to upland and revegetated, others would ultimately return to wetlands,” AGDC said. “The goal of restoration for the Alaska LNG project is to establish a right of way that is stable, both physically and thermally, and that maintains some of the ecosystem functions that were present prior to construction, where feasible.” • Additional details on dredging 800,000 cubic yards from Cook Inlet to accommodate vessel traffic at the barge landing and freight dock that would be used for construction in Nikiski. The dredged material would be dumped at approved sites in deeper water. • Clarification that while AGDC proposes pipe-coating and double-jointing pipeline yards in Fairbanks and Wasilla, it has dropped plans for a similar yard in Seward. • AGDC reported it does not have plans at this time for any additional gas offtake points along the pipeline for local distribution other than the previously disclosed offtake points in Fairbanks, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Nikiski. Though AGDC has long touted the availability of gas for local use from at least five offtake points, it has not publicly identified any additional economically feasible connection points. ^ Larry Persily is a former Alaska journalist, state and federal official who has long tracked oil and gas markets and projects worldwide.

Busiest exploration season in decades planned for this winter

The number of exploration and production rigs working on the oil-rich North Slope should reach its highest level in 20 years this winter, state officials say. Oil field employment is higher than last year, modestly, but a first in more than four years. And the state just had one of its strongest North Slope lease sales in recent history. Those factors and others show the recent plunge in oil prices has not dampened industry’s expectations for the region, amid newfound interest in a little-tapped geological formation, the Nanushuk, state officials indicated in a meeting with the Senate Finance committee last week. But with long development windows for Alaska projects, much of the new oil production is still years away. “It’s very good news” but the state will stay stuck in a fiscal “ditch” at least for at least the next couple of years, said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka and Senate Finance Committee co-chairman, during the meeting. Still, state authorities said they’re encouraged by positive signs showing that investment in the oil and gas sector, a key driver of Alaska’s economy, is on the rise. In a first since 2014, the sector employs more people than it did one year earlier, said Neal Fried, economist with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, on Jan. 22. About 9,250 people worked in the industry in November and December, a year-to-year increase of 100 jobs. The rise followed a long period that saw thousands of oil and gas workers laid off, helping make Alaska unemployment the nation’s worst, at 6.3 percent in December. “The numbers are not dramatic,” said Fried, who was not part of the Finance Committee meeting. “But the fact it appears that the trend is over is what’s real important. It’s important to people working there, and it’s an important signal to our economy.” North Slope oil prices that are critical for supporting industry operations — and revenue for companies and Alaska — sank after breaching $85 a barrel in early October, to current levels just above $60. Still, the recent prices are an improvement from previous years, creating a better environment for the industry, he said. “There’s been volatility, yes, but the price environment has improved a lot, even with the somewhat lower prices in recent months,” Fried said. The North Slope rig count is expected to reach its highest level in two decades, with an estimated 18 exploration and production rigs expected to operate this winter, said Graham Smith, permitting manager in the state’s Oil and Gas Division, in an email on Tuesday. That’s higher than the 17 rigs in 2014, a year of high oil prices, he said. “Some of our legacy fields are picking up rigs, we haven’t seen that for the past four years,” said Chantal Walsh, Oil and Gas division director, speaking to the committee Jan. 24. “Additional to that, we have a high level of exploration activity.” ConocoPhillips, looking to develop the large Willow field, is leading the way with plans to complete its largest Alaska exploration season in 16 years, drilling six to eight exploration and appraisal wells this winter. Oil Search has said it is drilling two appraisal wells this winter to better understand how to develop its Pikka discovery. The large find has sparked industry interest in the relatively shallow and sprawling Nanushuk formation. Oil Search on Jan. 24 reported “encouraging” results from the first well it drilled this winter, with oil confirmed in “hydrocarbon-saturated, high porosity sand,” said Peter Botten, Oil Search’s managing director. The company, based in Papua New Guinea, has rapidly grown its Alaska operations over the past year. It boosted the workforce to more than 100 employees from just a few, after buying a stake in Pikka in late 2017. Also this winter, BP is conducting a large seismic shoot to better understand future production potential in the state’s main legacy field, Prudhoe Bay. “There is a lot more activity, which translates to jobs for people,” Walsh said. Smith said other positive signs of rebounding North Slope activity include a strong lease sale in November. The state received high bids of $27.3 million from oil companies, the third highest in the last 20 years. The extra activity doesn’t necessarily mean additional oil production, Walsh cautioned. “It doesn’t lead immediately to adding money to the state general fund, but it is an exciting indication” that the state’s fortunes are improving, she said. Oil production at Pikka and Willow, perhaps the state’s most promising discoveries awaiting development, aren’t expected to begin producing oil until about 2024. Production could reach about 100,000 barrels daily at each field, possibly more at Pikka. Tax write-offs associated with the cost of developing Pikka and Willow will lower revenue for the state, officials said. Also, at Willow, located on federal land, half the royalties would go to the federal government, and the rest would be set aside by law for distribution to North Slope communities, reducing state revenue. Over roughly 16 years, Willow could bring about $7 billion in revenue to Alaska, the state estimated. Pikka, on state land, could be worth about $10.5 billion during that length of time.

Sablefish season to open with slight increase, along with uncertainty

Alaska’s sablefish fishermen will go into the 2019 season in March with no change to their overall catch limit but some debate about the state of the stock. Sablefish, also known as black cod, regularly opens to fishing in Alaska in March, at the same time as the halibut fishery. Commercial fishermen in the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska and Southeast Alaska catch them using trawls, longlines or, in some areas, pots. Fishermen landed about 13,956 metric tons of them last year between the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands fisheries. (A metric ton is 2,204 pounds, making the catch last year about 30.7 million pounds.) The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages the species, voted to slightly increase the sablefish total allowable catch in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands — from 11,505 to 11,571 metric tons in the Gulf, from 1,464 to 1,489 metric tons in the Bering Sea and from 1,988 to 2,008 metric tons in the Aleutian Islands. The increases were recommended by the council’s advisory panels, based on an observed increase in the fishery surveys conducted in 2016 and 2017. Researchers noted a 14 percent increase in the longline survey index from 2016-17, which built on a 28 percent increase from 2015–2016. The spawning biomass is expected to “increase rapidly from 2018 to 2022, then stabilize,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2018 assessment of the sablefish stock. Alaska’s sablefish are a high-value species, but with a caveat — they’re far more valuable when they’re large. Fishermen can make $7 to 8 per pound when the fish is greater than a certain weight, but for small fish, they make less per pound. That’s driven by consumer preferences, said Garrett Evridge, an economist with the McDowell Group who tracks seafood markets. Consumers in Europe, China and, increasingly, Middle Eastern countries like Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, are beginning to demand sablefish. However, Japan is far and away the biggest market for sablefish, 70 percent of which comes from Alaska, Evridge said. Japanese fishermen pioneered the fishery in Alaskan waters after World War II, and new generations have grown up developing a taste for sablefish. “When we talk about sablefish, it’s all about Japan,” he said. “Japan continues to value that larger fish.” Demand definitely weakened in 2018, pushing prices down after a peak year in 2017, Evridge said. Remaining inventory and high retail prices repressed demand last year, pushing down prices for fishermen in 2018. With roughly the same catch limit and relatively stable demand, the price trend should remain relative stable for the fish, he said. International currency strengths also play a role — when the dollar is stronger against the yen, it makes things more expensive for Japanese consumers. The slight TAC increase in 2019 follows an increase of about 14 percent from 2017-18. The surveys have continued to show an increasing abundance, with focus on the 2014 age class entering the spawning biomass. However, it doesn’t mean the news is completely rosy. In the survey summary for 2017, the researchers recommended an acceptable biological catch, or ABC, less than the maximum permissible, albeit 14 percent higher than in 2016. That was because of uncertainty regarding the strong 2014 age class and the existing spawning biomass. “While there are clearly positive signs of strong incoming recruitment, there are concerns regarding the lack of older fish and spawning biomass, the uncertainty surrounding the estimate of the strength of the 2014 year class, and the uncertainty about the environmental conditions that may affect the success of the 2014 year class,” the survey states. “These concerns warrant additional caution when recommending the 2018 and 2019 ABCs.” Despite high numbers turning up in the surveys, some fishermen have reported seeing the opposite out on the fishing grounds. During the North Pacific council’s deliberations in December, two groups submitted public comments asking the council to keep the TAC at the current level because of concerns about the sustainability of the stock into the future. Sablefish can be long-lived — the maximum recorded age is 94 years old, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service — with 40-year-old fish caught frequently in the commercial sector. They mature at approximately 5 to 7 years old, spawning annually after that, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, a group of stakeholders in the small-boat longline fleet, requested the council set the 2019 TAC equal to 2018. Because of the concern about the uncertainty of the incoming age class and the decline of mature spawning biomass, the group asked the council to limit increases to fishing for the coming year. The North Pacific Fisheries Association, a commercial stakeholder group based in Homer, raised similar concerns in a letter to the council. Erik Velsko, a board member, said the catch per unit of effort where he fishes out of Homer has recently increased significantly, even in areas that were historically excellent fishing grounds. Other fishermen have said they’re seeing large numbers of juvenile sablefish, he said. “I think it’s true, that age class is there, it’s just a question of whether those fish are going to grow up enough (to be part of the spawning biomass),” he said. One of the major issues the council and fishermen are still dealing with in the sablefish fishery, though, is whale depredation. Longliners have long been frustrated by orcas and sperm whales arriving as they begin hauling in lines and stripping the fish from their hooks, causing them to lose hours of effort and thousands of dollars. The federal surveys and recommendations account for whale depredation as part of the fishery now — based on existing data, researchers estimated the total whale depredation on the fishery in Alaska at 371 metric tons, according to the 2017 survey. To combat the problem, some fishermen have begun switching to using pots to catch sablefish instead, which the whales reportedly have not been able to break into yet. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

DEC nominee: Experience a plus, not a problem

Jason Brune insists his time working for a former investor in the Pebble mine project and advocating for other resource developments in Alaska is experience that benefits his newest role leading the Department of Environmental Conservation, despite claims by many detractors that it should disqualify him from consideration. Among the first appointments to Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s cabinet in November, Brune told Senate Resources Committee members during a Jan. 25 hearing on his confirmation that the questions regarding his professional background are “appropriate and fair,” while also noting that he has no financial interests in the Pebble Limited Partnership and has sold all of his stocks in oil and mining companies that work in the state. He highlighted a belief that Alaska has the most stringent environmental protection standards in the world and as DEC commissioner he demands everyone in the state be held to them. “My personal environmental ethic is ‘think globally, develop locally.’ I believe that provided that the companies that are trying to invest here do uphold the highest environmental standards, we should work with them to try to allow that investment and the development of those resources to occur here,” he said. Brune worked as the U.S. public affairs manager in Anchorage for London-based mining major Anglo American from 2011-14. Anglo American was a 50 percent partner in the Pebble project and invested more than $540 million in exploration and pre-development work at Pebble before announcing it would walk away from the project in September 2013. Before agreeing to lead DEC, Brune most recently worked as the lands and resources director for Cook Inlet Region Inc. He also spent more than a decade with the Resource Development Council for Alaska with about half of that time as executive director. The RDC is an organization that promotes Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, timber, tourism and fishing industries. Public testimony during the Senate hearing was overwhelmingly against Brune’s confirmation as DEC commissioner. Nearly all the individuals that testified in opposition to his confirmation cited his prior work history, contending he could not be objective in reviewing permit applications Pebble would need to submit to DEC before it can develop the large copper and gold mine. DEC is often most visible through its Spill Prevention and Response, or SPAR, Division, but the department also has primacy over several federal Clean Air and Clean Water Act programs as well as overseeing drinking water and food safety in the state. Opposition in written testimony offered to the Resources Committee before the hearing also centered on permitting Pebble. Brune received written support from industry groups such as the Alaska Miners Association, the Council of Alaska Producers and the Alaska Independent Power Producers Association. State commissioner-designees must be confirmed by a majority of legislators in a joint House and Senate vote that is usually held in spring near the end of the legislative session. Brune said in a Jan. 11 interview prior to the hearing that he doesn’t have a position on the highly contentious mine plan. “As a regulator I have the requirement to objectively look at what Pebble has to do to go through the process, so no, I don’t support the Pebble project. I don’t oppose the Pebble project. I think they deserve to have a fair hearing,” he said. The results of an annual poll of Alaskans by the Republican-led Senate majority caucus on current policy issues show that 61 percent of poll respondents oppose development of Pebble even if the company can secure all the requisite environmental permits. An outlier in the debate over Brune’s work history, Icicle Seafoods spokeswoman Julianne Curry, who is also a former executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, wrote in support of his confirmation. “We have worked with Mr. Brune in the past and have found him to be knowledgeable and interested in finding solutions to problems facing Alaska. His hard-working nature and ability to cut directly into issues will help make him an asset in DEC,” Curry wrote. Brune said his experience in the resource industries can be beneficial to leading DEC and he believes it’s one of the reasons the Dunleavy administration asked him to apply for the job. “I’m not going to rubber stamp any permit for any project — for Pebble, for an oil and gas permit, for a fishing permit. I’m going to look at it and I’m going to make sure that they’re doing what they need to do to protect the environment but that we’re working alongside them to ensure that they’re given a fair process and that we’re partners in bringing responsible resource development jobs to the state,” he said in an interview. Brune’s undergraduate education is in biology and is what originally brought him to Alaska. He spent a summer in the early 1990s as an intern with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cleaning and monitoring sea otters impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. He later came close to a master’s degree in environmental science from Alaska Pacific University, but never completed his thesis. “(The otter work) was very impactful on me because I saw, of course, how resource development can be done in the worst way possible. The impacts of the oil spill, we never, as Alaskans, want to see that again. That never should have happened and it’ll never happen again hopefully and we need to put protections in place to make sure it never happens again,” Brune said. On other issues, he said DEC needs to be adequately funded so it can adjudicate permit applications but at the same time he and DEC division directors are working with Dunleavy’s Budget Director Donna Arduin to determine what the department can and can’t afford to do when the state is faced with major deficits and dwindling savings. One of the programs Brune suggested could be on the chopping block is the Ocean Ranger program, which he has heard there isn’t much support for continuing. The program was established in 2006 via a voter initiative and requires certified marine engineers or individuals with expertise in marine safety and environmental protection to monitor marine discharges from large cruise ships operating in the state. DEC also has other regulations and sampling programs to monitor cruise ship discharges, according to the Ocean Ranger web page. “There are things that in these fiscally austere times that we have to ensure are still appropriate,” Brune said. “We have things on the books that are unfunded mandates or that are not necessarily doing anything to protect the environment; they’re just adding regulatory hurdles for companies and we have to evaluate those.” Brune also stressed a belief that “local problems are best met by local solutions,” particularly noting that he hopes DEC can successfully implement recommendations on how to best improve at times dangerously poor winter air quality in the Fairbanks area from a local stakeholder group. He continued to say that he expects the issue of PFAS contamination in drinking water supplies, particularly in rural Alaska, to be a growing issue DEC will have to address during his tenure if he is confirmed. Per- and polyflouroalkyl substances, known as PFAS chemicals, are artificial chemicals used, among other things, as highly effective fire suppressants at airports. Brune said DEC is working with DOT to test wells near airports in several rural Southeast and Western Alaska communities and has found the contaminants in each well that has been tested, in addition to Fairbanks. “I think we need to be a resource for the citizens of Alaska to give them the confidence that the water they’re drinking, that the things they’re doing, are safe,” he said. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Online retailers charging taxes, but municipalities still trying to collect

Some online retailers have begun charging sales taxes to sales originating in Alaska, though the question of how those taxes will be collected by municipalities is still unanswered. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2018 that the state of South Dakota had the right to collect sales taxes from online retailer Wayfair.com, stating that the rules South Dakota had in place did not place an undue burden on interstate commerce. Online sales have been eating away at brick-and-mortar sales in the U.S. for years, and with online retailers largely not applying local sales taxes, they have been eating into local governments’ revenues as well. Since January, online retail giant Amazon has been applying sales taxes to relevant municipalities in Alaska. A number of municipalities have noted that the company has applied for certificates to collect sales taxes, according to a newsletter from the Alaska Municipal League. It seems to not apply across the platform, though, as many of the items listed on Amazon are sold by third-party retailers. “What Sitka and Juneau have found is that Amazon is only collecting and remitting sales tax on sales fulfilled by amazon.com from its own warehouses,” AML Executive Director Nils Andreasson wrote. “Taxes are not being collected on sales by Amazon subsidiaries and by its 3rd party retailers. This is very confusing to citizens as most don’t understand the difference – they think Amazon is Amazon.” Amazon representatives did not respond to requests for comment on its Alaska sales tax collection policies and procedures. In Juneau’s case, Amazon already had a sales tax certificate prior to Jan. 1, but a change in the corporate structure led to the tax being applied across a broader range of products, according to a Jan. 23 press release from the City and Borough of Juneau. The Supreme Court’s online sales tax ruling has caveats, though — online retailers doing less than $100,000 in sales are not subject to the tax. The City and Borough of Juneau notes that online retailers only doing sales in Juneau aren’t included, either. “Currently, other retailers that only conduct sales in Juneau via the internet are not yet subject to CBJ sales tax,” the release notes. “A recent Supreme Court decision may change this though, but it will take a standardized Alaska local sales tax program.” Alaska is one of five states in the union that don’t have statewide sales taxes. Instead, individual municipalities have the authority to levy sales taxes, as do cities of some classes. That means that an online retailer like Amazon, conducting business all over the state, will have to apply to collect and remit sales taxes to about 100 different entities, Andreasson said. AML, which represents the various city and boroughs in the state, convened a workgroup in August 2018 to discuss the implications of the Wayfair v. South Dakota case and how to implement it. Among its conclusions was a recommendation to work together to develop a joint independent authority through AML to collect online sales taxes. A joint authority would reduce the burden both on retailers and on municipalities, and would not require the implementation of a statewide broad-base tax. The AML requested contributions from cities and boroughs to support the effort. How the final implementation looks could vary, Andreasson said; some contractors could provide services, for example. The AML doesn’t envision the state having a role in the collection, though, he said. Online retail plays a major role in Alaska’s economy, in part because the small populations don’t always work out for brick-and-mortar locations and in part because the population is so spread out. The AML’s workgroup noted that the Alaska Department of Revenue estimated approximately $1 billion was spent in online retail in the state. About 50 percent of that is in Anchorage and Fairbanks, though, which have no sales taxes. The Kenai Peninsula Borough, which is considering an ordinance to appropriate $10,000 to support the AML’s efforts on online sales taxes, estimated that it stands to gain an additional $1.5 million in revenue if online retailers remit sales taxes. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Alaska Air Group reports drop in annual income

A handful of factors that converged on Alaska Air Group Inc. in 2018 resulted in modest net income of $437 million, but company executives said they expect improved financial performance this year during a Jan. 24 earnings call. The Seattle-based parent to Alaska Airlines and regional carrier Horizon Air netted $23 million in the fourth quarter, compared to $315 million in last three months of 2017. The $437 million full-year profit is off 55 percent from 2017 full-year earnings of $960 million. Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said a year ago the company faced the challenges of increased competition, higher fuel costs, more expensive labor agreements and internal growth. “Today, that picture looks very different. Our growth has slowed. Newer parts of our network are maturing and fuel prices are down; demand overall is solid,” Tilden remarked. “We have good momentum moving into 2019.” Despite earnings down 73 percent year-over-year, he called the $23 million netted in the fourth quarter “solid,” noting per unit revenues rose significantly at 5.2 percent, a trend that is expected to continue. Alaska Air Group’s per gallon fuel cost — the largest expense aside from labor for many airlines — was up 25 percent in 2018 overall and nearly 17 percent for the fourth quarter. Overall, the company generated about $1.2 billion in operational cash flow for the year and spent about $960 million on capital expenses, which resulted in $240 million of free cash flow and more than $1.2 billion in cash on-hand at the end of the year. Chief Financial Officer Brandon Pedersen said capital expenditures should be down to about $750 million in 2019 with less fleet growth and free cash flow should improve as well. Alaska Air Group cut its balance sheet debt by $470 million in 2018 and ended the year with a 47 percent debt-to-capitalization ratio, down from 59 percent after its purchase of former San Francisco-based competitor Virgin America for $4 billion in December 2016. Company leaders expect to hit their debt-to-cap target in the low to mid-40 percent range this year, Pedersen said, noting the company now owns outright 95 aircraft valued at $1.7 billion. “Our long-term owners tell us they value a conservative balance sheet and it’s been a hallmark of our past success,” Pedersen commented during the earnings call. Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air increased their combined passenger capacity 5.3 percent in 2018 but that growth was slowed to 1.1 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter. The company has also negotiated joint labor agreements with each of its employee groups except for aircraft technicians since buying Virgin America. Tilden said work to integrate Virgin America systems and employees into Alaska Airlines is almost over, which he said was done remarkably quickly as well given its complexity. The refurbishment of Virgin America Airbus aircraft to Alaska livery and interiors should be done early next year, he added. The first fully refurbished Airbus reentered service in early January. “All of this means we’re rapidly becoming a better version of ourselves with greater reach and scale with the same competitive advantage we’ve always had and fantastic opportunities ahead,” Tilden said. He highlighted that the company’s on-time departure rate increased to 86 percent in 2018 and Horizon Air led regional carriers with an on-time arrival rate of 83 percent. Alaska Airlines officially opened its new $50 million, 100,00 square-foot hangar — large enough to accommodate two of the new, larger Boeing 737 Next Generation aircraft it flies — at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in the fourth quarter. The work translated into $147 million in performance bonuses awarded to Air Group employees in 2018; $120 million of which was paid Jan. 25. It was the 10th consecutive year Alaska Air Group issued performance-based incentives totaling more than 5 percent of annual wages, company executives said. “We’re proud of this payout because it’s an example of how we’re trying to run this business in a balanced way that benefits all of our stakeholders. We’re providing good wages and good benefits to our people and sharing $147 million of incentive pay with them for hitting important goals,” Pedersen said. “Our guests are getting low fares and an improving product and our owners are getting a larger dividend.” On Jan. 14 Air Group announced plans to add at least 3,000 jobs across various business segments. In 2018 the company added roughly 1,500 full-time equivalent positions, bringing its total full-time workforce to 21,600. Roughly 75 percent of the new positions will be in Washington, according to a company release. The company also announced that its quarterly shareholder dividend payment would increase 9 percent to 35 cents per share when it is paid March 7. The company paid out $158 million in shareholder dividends in 2018 and repurchased another $50 million worth of common stock. The $23 million quarterly profit and $437 million in full-year earnings translate to earnings per share of 19 cents and $3.52 per share, respectively. Alaska Air Group stock ended Jan. 25 trading at $63.48 per share, down slightly from a Jan. 24 pre-earnings report opening price of $65.72 per share. Alaska Air Group is forecasting 2 percent capacity growth this year and 3-4 percent growth in 2020, according to executives. Tilden said company leaders have also set a multi-year goal to produce profit margins in the 13 percent to 15 percent range by focusing on improving performance in areas the company can control. “We’re on the road to deliver higher margins in 2019 and 2020 as we work with our people to leverage Alaska’s substantial competitive advantage over a route network that now has greater reach and scale,” he commented. Continued per-unit cost containment will be a major part of the improved returns expected in the coming years, according to Pedersen. He said 2018 unit costs were up 3 percent on about 5 percent capacity growth, which was better than early year guidance of 3.5 percent unit cost growth on a 6.5 percent increase in capacity. Unit costs would have been close to flat in 2018 if not for the added expenses of new labor agreements, Pedersen added. This year nonfuel costs are expected to increase 2-2.5 percent on about 2 percent capacity growth, according to Pedersen, who called it “an exceptionally strong cost plan considering the low (capacity) growth and the roughly 120 basis points of headwind we expect from a higher mix of regional flying.” Finding savings through new agreements with contractors is a major element of Air Group’s plan for the coming year as well. “We’re looking for long-term partners who can help us reduce costs today in exchange for future opportunities to grow their business with us,” Pedersen said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Cuts to education, VPSO in supplemental budget draw scrutiny

It’s quickly going to become another extremely tense legislative session if the release of Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s supplemental budget is any indication. Senate Finance Committee members noted as much Jan. 29 when Office of Management and Budget officials presented their fiscal year 2019 supplemental budget proposals to the committee for the first time. This year’s supplemental requests were made in two bills; one dealing with regular budget adjustments and another $139.3 million “disaster supplemental” to deal with state earthquake repairs and wildfire suppression efforts within the Department of Natural Resources. Specifically, the administration is proposing $29.4 million in state earthquake-disaster funding to match $102 million in expected federal disaster support. Another $7.9 million would address DNR’s wildfire needs. The more standard capital and operating budget proposals total $110 million; however, the vast majority of that — more than $92 million — would come from federal programs. The remaining nearly $18 million would be money from outside sources such as fees or transfers between state agencies. The big sticking points for legislators are a $20 million proposed cut to education funding and a $3 million reduction to the Village Public Safety Officer program. OMB Director Donna Arduin said other than the earthquake spending the administration wanted to present a supplemental that didn’t spend more from the general fund than the original 2019 budget passed last spring. “We worked collaboratively with our agencies to identify areas where there was cash available, where items had not been spend yet during the fiscal year because we felt we needed to prioritize the fiscal situation that we’re facing in Alaska as well as our need for disaster response and recovery,” Arduin told the committee. Senators from both parties took issue with the $20 million education cut, as the money was part of an end-of-session budget compromise last year. Northwest Alaska Democrat Sen. Donny Olson emphasized that it was meant to partially offset the impacts of inflation on school districts after several years of flat formula funding through the state’s Base Student Allocation, or BSA. Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, questioned whether or not the $30 million for 2020 that was also a part of last year’s budget deal would be cut in Dunleavy’s budget plan for next year, which must be released by Feb. 13. The state is facing a roughly $1.6 billion deficit and Dunleavy opposes new taxes so large budget cuts are expected. Arduin said that would be addressed in the upcoming budget. “In my opinion you’re talking to the wrong people first. You should be talking to the school districts first to see where that money is going to be obligated going forward so we don’t have another supplemental,” said Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks. Arduin generally responded that school districts or other groups expecting state money should budget for it until it has actually been allocated and changed hands, not just approved by the state. Hoffman contended that the education spending bills “are the law of the land,” recalling Dunleavy’s campaign promise to follow state laws, particularly in regards to the Permanent Fund dividend calculation. Arduin noted the spending cuts are simply proposals at this point and the money will be spent if the Legislature rejects them. Hoffman and Olson also pressed administration officials on plans to increase Alaska State Trooper spending by $3.6 million for salary increases meant to improve Trooper recruitment and retention while the VPSO program is cut by $3 million; although Arduin said the $3 million reduction is money approved that the program did not receive requests to spend. Hoffman said the public safety funding changes could appear to prioritize urban Alaska over rural residents. “The salary structure that exists for the VPSOs needs to be addressed as well,” he said. “Taking the money at this time is shortsighted and does not do justice to the services that are required for the people in the far flung corners of Alaska.” Those cuts would offset an additional $15 million for Medicaid claims made in fiscal year 2018 that still need to be paid after the Legislature knowingly short-funded the program in the current year budget. The supplemental also includes a $5 million re-appropriation from the Alaska LNG Project fund back to the General Fund. That money would not come out of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.’s $10.3 million operating budget for this year, but instead would lessen the corporation’s available funds for future years. As of the end of November AGDC had $39.7 million left from prior legislative appropriations, according to corporate finance reports. AGDC spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick said via email that the corporation worked with the administration to identify where savings could be found and the $5 million in unused funds was the result of that work. “As AGDC works to focus its priorities, and brings stakeholders to the table, we are confident that we will have the resources and funding to operate successfully,” Fitzpatrick said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Movers and Shakers for Feb. 3

The Alaska Energy Authority board of directors appointed Curtis Thayer as AEA executive director. Thayer comes to AEA with more than 20 years of experience in the public and private sectors. Since 2015, Thayer has been the President and CEO of the Alaska Chamber since 2015. Thayer also served as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration and as the deputy commissioner of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. Prior to joining state government, Thayer served on the management team of Enstar Natural Gas. He also worked for Rep. Don Young as well as Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski. Thayer’s first day as AEA Executive Director will be Feb. 4. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang named Dave Rutz as director of the Division of Sport Fish and Sam Rabung as the director of Commercial Fisheries. Rutz has worked in fisheries research and management for nearly 40 years. He spent much of his career at the department’s Division of Sport Fish as an area management biologist in the Northern and Western Cook Inlet Management area. He has also led the department’s Alexander Creek Invasive Northern Pike Removal and Restoration project and worked around the state in various research and management roles. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree with wildlife fisheries emphasis from St. Cloud State (Minn.) in 1980. Prior to accepting his new role, Rabung has been serving as section chief for the Division of Commercial Fisheries Statewide Aquaculture, Planning, and Permitting, a position he held since 2015. He has also worked in a variety of positions overseeing hatchery operations around the state. He first joined the department as a fisheries technician in 1983. Rabung graduated with honors in 1987 from Sheldon Jackson College with a bachelor’s degree in aquatic resources, fisheries science and aquaculture emphasis. Engineering, planning and consulting services firm Michael Baker International has expanded its operation in Anchorage with two new hires. Marc Luiken has joined the firm as civil/transportation engineering manager and Patrick Whitesell as Environmental Department lead. Luiken previously served as commissioner for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Prior to his public service in Alaska, Luiken served 29 years with the U.S. Air Force, retiring as the Vice Commander of the 11th Air Force in 2010. His career as an Air Force fighter pilot spanned the globe with assignments in Europe, the Middle East and Pacific regions. He is a combat veteran with service in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Southern Watch, Operation Joint Forge and Operation Enduring Freedom. Before joining Michael Baker, Mr. Whitesell served as an environmental specialist at DOWL, a transportation design consultancy, for 11 years. He managed a small team and led dozens of phase 1 environmental site assessments, numerous wetland delineations and noise analyses for a range of private- and public-sector clients. Whitesell also conducted research and analysis on environmental resources including wetlands, waterways and local animal species that could be impacted from proposed projects and ensured project design processes were compliant with the National Environmental Policy Act. He previously served as an environmental engineer at Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, where he managed multiple waterway restoration and enhancement projects from initial design and scoping through construction. Rep. Don Young announced that Zack Brown will serve as press secretary in his Washington, D.C., office. Brown, a graduate of the George Washington University who most recently worked for Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-NY, arrives following the departure of Murphy McCollough, who returned home to Texas to serve in the Office of the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon market looks up, but many still can’t cook it

Heading into the 2019 salmon season, markets are looking good as global demand exceeds supply. That’s due in part to constraints on the world’s biggest producers of farmed Atlantic salmon — Norway and Chile. While farmed production continues to tick upwards, growth in both countries is limited as to the maximum amount of fish regulations permit them to have in the water. Chile also is still recovering from a deadly virus that wiped out millions of fish in 2016, and Norway is battling pervasive sea lice issues. All told, the days appear to be over when both countries could count on double-digit increases in production to meet setbacks in supply. “Now it appears the salmon farmers don’t have any rabbits left in the hat. They are still increasing production but not to the extent in percentage terms that it used to be,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist and director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. Couple that with expanding salmon demand, and current market conditions create a larger niche for wild salmon, Wink said, not only in the U.S. but also in China. “Demand for salmon in China is growing in a big way,” he explained. “News reports say they expect farmed salmon consumption in China to go from 90,000 metric tons (198 million pounds) this past year to around 250,000 mt (550 million pounds) by 2025. There’s a lot of opportunity for all wild salmon.” Market watchers are awaiting the last four months of sales data, but all salmon species have been selling well and holdover inventories are not expected heading into the coming season. “We saw strong pricing on the wholesale side and volumes moved at a quick clip,” Wink said. “As far as sockeye goes, people I’ve been in touch with anecdotally say things are moving nicely even though prices are up.” Another good sign is that the value of the dollar has held steady. “For the past year the dollar has been going sideways in terms of its strength,” Wink explained. “If it moves a lot, that will have a huge impact on fish prices, but for the time being we haven’t seen a lot of change.” Demand continues to increase in the U.S. where Wink said more appreciation has grown for wild salmon in general. He pointed to Costco as a new market channel, which rolled out a national sockeye salmon program last year. That really gave sockeyes a boost, and Wink said it was clearly shown in Bristol Bay’s branding promotion that has grown from a small pilot program in a handful of stores in Boulder, Colo., in 2016 to 1,000 stores across the country and growing. “When we approach a retailer they are generally very receptive and excited to work with us,” he said. “They know their customers want wild salmon, they want to know where it comes from and that connection with the producer, and that it’s a quality product. Whether it’s from Bristol Bay or other places in Alaska, there’s great demand for that in the U.S.” Wink said the decades of hard work by Alaska’s salmon industry is really starting to pay off. “A lot of great work has been done to develop the quality of the pack, push new products and new markets are opening up,” he said. “Even though they’ve taken years to cultivate, we’re seeing a lot of those investments bear fruit now.” Fish fears A lack of knowledge about seafood is the biggest hurdle to increasing sales and U.S. consumption. That’s the main take away from one of the industry’s most popular events: the Global Seafood Market Conference held this month in California. Results of a first ever Power of Seafood Survey of more than 2,000 Americans by the Food Marketing Institute yielded some surprises about why Americans aren’t buying more seafood and revealed hurdles that prevent them from buying more. A recap of the FMI survey by SeafoodSource found that only 56 percent of Americans eat seafood twice a month, a far cry from the twice a week recommendation by the U.S. government. Just one in five adults said they meet that weekly threshold. Freshness and flavor have a major impact on seafood purchases, the survey revealed, but most shoppers said they feel “turned off” by their lack of knowledge. Nearly half of consumers said there is not enough information about how to judge quality and freshness, and 42 percent said they wanted more information about different species of fish and shellfish. Guy Pizzuti, seafood manager for the Publix supermarket chain, called consumers’ worries over evaluating freshness a “failure of the industry.” Just 29 percent of the respondents said they feel very knowledgeable about how to buy seafood; only 28 percent said they felt confident in how to prepare or season it. Buyers from major grocery chains said they can’t focus on the appeal of raw seafood; instead, they must stimulate consumers to believe they can easily cook it at home. Pizzuti added that for decades the industry has been talking about teaching consumers how to prepare seafood and it still hasn’t been figured out. Dave Wier of the Meijer chain added that the industry is “too busy telling customers what boat caught the fish instead of how to cook it.” He said they’ve taken their eye off what consumers really want and that the industry is “terrible at this and must improve quickly.” The survey found that the average seafood eater spends more on food in weekly shopping than non-eaters, and frequent seafood eaters spend even more - showing it to be a small but lucrative demographic group. Funds for saving lives Saving lives and reducing injuries is the goal of fishing safety grants available to non-profit groups, municipalities, academics and businesses involved in the fishing and maritime industries. The Fishing Safety Research Grant Program was funded in 2010 as part of the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act, and the money is finally available. “These are moneys that came to the Coast Guard first and we are partnering with them to administer these important safety training and research grants. This is the first time that these funds have been available,” saidJennifer Lincoln, co-director of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Maritime Center for Safety and Health Studies. The grants will provide up to 75 percent of the costs and range from $250,000-$650,000 per grant over two years. Academics and nonprofits already involved in research and training are likely applicants, but communities and businesses also are encouraged. “They could partner with a training organization to offer training for fishermen in their area,” Lincoln explained. “There also are small business grants that include things like developing new technologies for industry. It’s those types of ideas that I would potentially expect from municipalities or businesses.” Different fishing fleets have different hazards and proposals can be targeted to what works best for a particular fishery, gear group or region. “A group of fishermen might want to focus on fatigue-related issues,” Lincoln said. “Other ideas could include improving a piece of deck equipment that is particular to a fleet. Catcher processors or the head and gut fleet might want to focus on ergonomic issues and improved processes on their vessels.” Lincoln said ideas continue to evolve on improving safety equipment such as life jackets and she expects some grants will target vessel stability training. Another potential opportunity, she said is exploring hearing protections for fishermen. February 21 is the deadline to apply in two categories: safety research and training. The “opportunity numbers” are RFA-OH-19-004 and RFA-OH-19-005. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Dunleavy administration pumping brakes on gasline

Gov. Micheal J. Dunleavy’s administration plans to go back to the future for a successful Alaska LNG Project. Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman stressed the administration’s belief that the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corp. needs to shift its focus away from intense efforts to get the $43 billion gasline project approved quickly in favor of resurrecting the “stage-gate” approach favored by the state’s former producer partners during a Jan. 18 speech at the Meet Alaska oil and mining contractor trade show in Anchorage. “The (administration) transition is a great opportunity to pause and see exactly where we’re at in the process with the Alaska LNG Project specifically. It’s a good chance to reach out to our partners that we used to be involved with on a different level and see what their views are of the gasline and the LNG market — get their expertise,” Tangeman said. He added that Dunleavy is very familiar with the project from his time in the state Senate. Dunleavy and other legislators were comfortable with the stage-gate megaproject development process employed until the state took over leadership of the project in late 2016, according to Tangeman. The deliberate stage-gate process breaks overall project development into numerous stages and after each is finished a decision is made whether or not to advance to the next stage. For Alaska LNG, the decision points, or gates, were times when BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and the State of Alaska could evaluate their desire to continue or allow the other partners go ahead without them. The companies approach former Gov. Sean Parnell about the prospect of the state being a 25 percent partner in Alaska LNG, which was appealing to the state because it was a way to participate without undue risk, said Tangeman, who was a deputy Revenue commissioner when the public-private Alaska LNG Project ownership structure was devised during Parnell’s tenure in the governor’s office. Parnell has since consulted with Dunleavy on the current status of the project since the election. “We had partners who had done this kind of work and we were going to jump on their backs and ride across the finish line to a successful, profitable project,” he recalled. ExxonMobil was leading the project at that time and the company’s Alaska LNG manager Steve Butt emphasized a need to continually focus on lowering the project’s final cost of LNG supply through optimized project design and infrastructure engineering, in turn leading to improved project economics overall. However, when oil markets bottomed out at sub-$30 per barrel prices in early 2016 — and oil-linked global LNG prices followed suit — the companies suggested to then-Gov. Bill Walker that the project could either be slowed or the state, through AGDC, could take it over. Walker, a longtime advocate for a publicly-led gasline project, quickly chose the state-led option. The Alaska LNG team at the time was wrapping up the roughly $600 million preliminary front-end engineering and design, or pre-FEED, stage of the project, which resulted in reams of environmental and engineering data and the current cost estimate of $43 billion, below the conceptual range of $45 billion to $65 billion. Under Walker, AGDC focused on marketing the project to potential customers in the Asia-Pacific region, an aspect of development Walker repeatedly said had been incorrectly ignored under the prior producer-led Alaska LNG structure. AGDC also began the multi-year process of securing federal permits for the project in April 2017 primarily using the information gathered during pre-FEED. Tangeman said interim AGDC President Joe Dubler and new board members appointed by Dunleavy are also taking time to better understand where the quasi-state agency is in negotiations with potential customers as well as the status of permitting with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC is scheduled to release a draft environmental impact statement for the project sometime in February. Dubler, a former finance executive with AGDC, officially takes over as president of the corporation Feb. 1. The board hired him Jan. 10 immediately after firing Keith Meyer, who was hired in 2016 under Walker’s guidance for his significant experience in Lower 48 LNG and pipeline companies. AGDC secured 15 letters of interest from potential customers under Meyer’s leadership and was actively negotiating with six of them when he was let go, according to corporate management. The most notable interest has come from a consortium of state-owned Chinese corporations, which signed a joint development agreement, or JDA, with AGDC in November 2017 in front of President Donald Trump and China President Xi Jinping. The JDA outlines the prospect of the Bank of China and oil giant Sinopec Corp. becoming anchor customers and financiers of the project, with the bank debt funding up to 75 percent of the $43 billion project cost in exchange for Sinopec purchasing 75 percent of its LNG production capacity. Final JDA negotiations have been extended for six months after a Dec. 31 deadline was not met. While the administration is championing a slower approach, board chair Doug Smith also said he doesn’t want to slow any of the progress the corporation has made. Tangeman made it clear that AGDC would not be making a final investment decision on Alaska LNG in 2020 as Meyer had been pushing for, but getting a record of decision from FERC would be valuable and it’s unclear exactly how much that will cost. The state will not be leading a project into construction with as much risk as it carries now, he said. AGDC was also preparing for what executives called an “equity road show” to market the project to investors this year. They often noted the producers would be welcome investors to the project. Tangeman said Dunleavy doesn’t expect to return to the prior structure, but he would be happy with it. “We understand what took place with the price of oil, the price of gas over the last several years but we’ll be talking with (the producers) to see what the climate is now, where we are with oil at $60; what is the gas market; is there an appetite to reengage and see if we can move forward as a partnership again?” he said. “We look forward to having those discussions again. And ultimately a stage gate approach will be put in place so we know and Alaskans know exactly how we’re going to build this project.” The Legislature will also have its say, Tangeman noted. AGDC had previously stressed the need to move quickly on the project to meet a mid-2020s market demand window. BP Alaska President Janet Weiss said in an interview that a state-led project has tax advantages the IRS has recognized that could lower the cost of supply and government-to-government relationships with customers are valuable as well. The state is wrestling with the challenge of assuring it can find a competent builder for the project, something BP, which has assisted AGDC since the state took over, would need to be comfortable with before it would invest. The London oil major also agreed to key terms, including pricing, in May with AGDC to sell its share of North Slope gas into the project. Weiss said BP, which has championed the state’s project “is all about educating and figuring out how to go forward” in discussions with the administration and Legislature. Tangeman said in an interview that the potential customers AGDC is negotiating with understand some change is going to happen in the project with a change of governors but that it will survive if it is economic. He said they also understand there is still a lot of work to do. AGDC veered from the formal stage gates between pre-FEED and FEED, which the companies estimated to be up to a $2 billion undertaking of much more detailed work. “All that hard work has gotten us to a 10-yard line but I think we still have a long way to go to get to the 10-yard line,” Tangeman said, referencing Walker’s campaign metaphor for how close he believes the state is to finally building a gasline. “And I think it’s going to be important that Alaskans understand that.” Tangeman later added in an interview that, “Gov. Dunleavy doesn’t want to go that 90 yards with 100 percent of the risk on our back.” ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

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