Headlamp – NES helps North Slope workers avoid layoffs; Balash confirmed!

Balash IN at Interior! The U.S. Senate confirmed Alaskan Joe Balash to a top position at the Interior Department on Thursday, generating immediate concern from a conservation group over his past efforts to unlock the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for minerals exploration. Balash will serve as assistant secretary for land and minerals management under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Balash, a former Alaska natural resources commissioner under Gov. Sean Parnell, had previously fought for an Alaska-led plan to allow modern seismic studies in the 19 million-acre refuge where oil exploration has been off-limits for decades. Such seismic studies might be permitted under the Trump administration.

Wait, not so fast – in a GOOD way! A new oilfield services contractor for three North Slope fields said Wednesday it has offered jobs to the workers who faced the prospect of losing employment with the previous contractor, ASRC Energy Services. ASRC notified state officials last week it would be laying off workers from Dec. 18 until Dec. 31 because the operator of the fields, Hilcorp, had engaged a new contractor. ASRC said 92 workers would be affected. The new contractor, Anchorage-based Northern Energy Services, has offered jobs to all the affected employees, NES official David Chaput said in an emailed statement. “We, along with Hilcorp, sincerely hope to continue relying on their experience and expertise, and will not be reducing the overall workforce,” Chaput said.

Pentex sale clears next hurdle. A unanimous vote by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s board of directors cleared the way for its sale of Pentex Natural Gas Company to the Interior Gas Utility for $60 million. The board meeting was held in Anchorage and broadcast Thursday via teleconference. Included in the Pentex sale is the utility Fairbanks Natural Gas, a liquefaction plant in Cook Inlet, a trucking company to bring LNG to Fairbanks and an unrelated pad on the North Slope. Public comments were short but opposed to the sale, including criticisms from former Gov. Frank Murkowski. He failed to see the danger in waiting a few months or a year to see what happens with oil wells being drilled closer to Fairbanks. “You’re putting the burden on ratepayers up there,” Murkowski said.

What does Stand for Salmon really stand for? A ballot initiative aimed at protecting Alaska’s salmon habitat is kicking up a controversy. Environmental groups call it a needed step to protect Alaska’s most iconic — and lucrative — fish. But the state, many industry groups and several Alaska Native corporations are speaking out against it. If Alaskans are confused about what the ballot initiative would actually do, that’s understandable. Both sides can’t seem to agree on how it would affect future development in Alaska. At a Stand for Salmon event held in Anchorage this fall, supporter Arlo Davis collected his first signature from Kevin Illingworth. As he signed on, Illingworth said like a lot of Alaskans, he thinks protecting salmon should be a priority. “I know the importance of salmon to our entire state — not just any one group or individual, but to all of us,” Illingworth said. Illingworth’s signature is just one of 32,127 Stand for Salmon’s organizers need to pin down before mid-January to get it on the ballot. That’s not the only hurdle. The state thinks the initiative is unconstitutional and is challenging it in court.

NPR-A v. ANWR. While debate is focused on a controversial budget measure to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a more accessible oil and gas frontier in Arctic Alaska is producing industry excitement and drawing significant investment. The National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, or NPR-A, and adjoining state lands around the Colville River Delta on the western side of the North Slope have proved to be an attractive place for new oil development, thanks to recent and rich discoveries, accessibility of infrastructure and a series of projects in development that are poised to start producing in the next few years. Recent discoveries in the area, on both state and federal land, are fueling predictions of new fields that will produce 30,000 to 100,000 barrels a day. Oil companies have been very successful on the western side of the North Slope, a contrast to the east side where ANWR is located, said Andy Mack, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

The FERC is full. Kevin McIntyre was sworn in Thursday as the new chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency said. McIntyre’s swearing-in as both a new commissioner and the chairman restores the agency to five commissioners for the first time since 2015. He was previously an attorney at Jones Day, heading its energy practice and often representing industry clients before FERC. McIntyre, a Republican, replaces Neil Chatterjee, who had served as chairman on an interim basis since August while McIntyre went through the Senate confirmation process. Chatterjee, also a Republican, will stay on at FERC as a commissioner. McIntyre’s chairmanship comes at an important time for the often obscure agency that oversees wholesale electricity markets, interstate pipelines and similar matters.

First Reads:

Pentex sale gets crucial second approval
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Robin Wood, December 8, 2017

92 North Slope workers facing layoffs offered new employment
Anchorage Daily News, Alex DeMarban, December 7, 2017

Alaskan Joe Balash confirmed to key post at Interior Department
Anchorage Daily News, Alex DeMarban, December 7, 2017

How would the salmon ballot initiative impact development in Alaska?
Alaska Public Media, Elizabeth Harball, December 7, 2017

While ANWR fight grabs headlines, a different part of Alaska’s Arctic is seeing a burst in oil exploration
Arctic Now, Yereth Rosen, December 8, 2017

New energy commission chairman takes reins
The Hill, Timothy Cama, December 7, 2017