NEWS OF THE DAY:
From the Washington Examiner, Daily on Energy:
RED STATES VS. BANKS: Officials in a host of states with major fossil fuel interests are teaming up and employing their “financial leverage” to pressure banking partners against withholding financing from oil, coal, and gas projects as part of corporate social and environmental policies.
The chief fiduciaries of 15 states, including top coal producers Wyoming and West Virginia, leading oil producers Texas and North Dakota, and major crude refiner Louisiana, said in a letter to the banking industry ahead of Thanksgiving that they would look to take their collective $600 billion in assets elsewhere unless financial institutions abandon existing or planned boycotts of fossil financing.
Riley Moore, the Republican treasurer of West Virginia, is leading the effort and said the motive among participating states is to use “our financial leverage to essentially liberate what we view as these critical industries.”
“The last time I checked, those are still legal businesses in the United States. So, you’re talking about a presumption of denial … to the fossil fuel industry just based on the business that they undertake,” Moore told Jeremy.
“How can I put my money into a bank at the same time trying to diminish those dollars that I’m having to manage?” he went on.
Moore said he is overseeing a strategy to ensure that any banks under contract to hold some share of the state’s approximately $18 billion in assets would have to certify that they are not boycotting financing of fossil fuel projects.
“If they cannot meet that certification, then they’re not eligible for a banking contract in the state of West Virginia,” Moore said, adding that the other 14 states who signed on to the letter are pursuing some version of the same.
The letter Moore and his counterparts signed does not address particular financial institutions by name, but Moore said it’s the attention of major firms like JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs that he is seeking.
For its part, JPMorgan Chase put out an environmental and social policy framework in October, which said the firm will not provide financing or advisory services to clients who get most of their revenues from the extraction of coal. The policy also targets the end of 2024 to phase out “remaining credit exposure to such clients.”
“It’s a lot of money for us. We are an extraction industry state,” said Moore who, much like climate hawks, couched the state of play in terms of an “existential threat.”
“This is what we do.”
Fossil financing still flowing: Despite corporate ESG stances and pressure from the Biden administration, major firms are still offering big-time financing to oil and gas companies in the immediate term.
Bloomberg reports that Wells Fargo is currently on track to double the amount of credit it has granted to the sector this year, while JPMorgan in recent weeks has underwritten around $2.5 billion in bond deals for Russian gas giant Gazprom and American energy company Continental Resources.
Despite Willow delay, ConocoPhillips pushes ahead with western slope development
Tim Bradner, The Frontiersman, December 3, 2021
There are bumps in the road, like Willow, but ConocoPhillips is pushing ahead with an aggressive North Slope development strategy with a plan for its Alpine field facilities to become a regional hub for new projects.
The company is on track with a billion-dollar capital investment program this year even with Willow being delayed, said Vincent Lelarge, ConocoPhillips’ North Slope development manager.
Through the third quarter of 2022 capital expenditures have totaled $698 million, Lelarge told the Resource Development Council at its annual conference in Anchorage.
New projects in advanced development include GMT-2 in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and Fiord West in the Alpine field. Initial production is to begin in 2022 from Narwhal (see separate article).
Also on the radar is Nuna, an undeveloped deposit near the Kuparuk field, although no timeline has been given.
Assuming legal issues with Willow are resolved, ConocoPhillips has a number of NPR-A prospects in the immediate area – West Willow, Harpoon and Bear – that could be tied into the planned Willow processing facility and pipelines.
On GMT-2, facilities and pipelines were installed ahead of schedule. Eleven modules have been moved into place and 14 acres of pad have been built after 600,000 manhours of construction. Total investments in GMT-2 are about $1 billion.
Fiord West, a second project under development, is now expected to begin production by second quarter 2022. The field is being developed with long horizontal wells being drilled by Doyon 26, a heavy rig designed for extended-reach horizontal drilling.
The first well is requiring over 36,000 feet and later wells planned will be 40,000 feet in length. “These are long, complicated wells,” Lelarge said.
Lelarge said a production test has been conducted with results that were better than expected. “We’re confident we’ll have first oil by the end of the year,” he said. GMT-2 is expected to produce 30,000 barrels per day at peak.
North Slope projects like those in NPR-A are typically expanded over time. For example, CD-5, a project near the Alpine field, began production several years ago with 15 wells. Those are now doubled to 30, Lelarge said.
Work is also continuing on West Sak, the vicious oil project in the Kuparuk River field that is being expanded in increments over several years. The latest at West Sak is the drilling of a long 8,000-foot lateral “sidetrack” well with a coiled-tubing rig.
Coiled-tubing rigs are mobile drilling units that work with drilling motors at the end of long flexible tubes (coiled at the surface, hence the name). They are used to drill sidetracks, or lateral wells, from an older “vertical” well to the surface drilled originally with a conventional rotary drill rig.
Coiled-tubing drilling much less expensive than drilling with a conventional rig and can develop small oil deposits that are otherwise uneconomic. It is one of three technology innovations invented on the North Slope that are important, the other two being horizontal production wells and multi-lateral wells, where several lateral wells are drilled underground from a vertical well to the surface.
Over 200 coiled-tubing wells have been drilled to date in the Kuparuk field and far more with coiled-tubing wells drilled in Prudhoe Bay.
On Willow, Lelarge said the company remains committed to the estimated $6 billion project. “We are working through the issues raised in the U.S. District Court decision with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management,” he said, after an adverse court ruling in a case brought by tribal and environmental groups.
The company is still planning for a Final Investment Decision next year. If developed, Willow would produce 160,000 barrels per day. The deposit now has an estimated 600 million barrels of recoverable reserves.
ConocoPhillips sees a bright future for the North Slope, but Lelarge cautioned that costs are still high relative to other places the company is working.
Per-barrel production costs amount to about $25 per barrel, which includes $18 per barrel of direct “lifting” costs at the field and $7 to $8 per barrel in pipeline and tanker transportation costs.
That is about double the worldwide average. Within the U.S. the average per-barrel production cost is about $7 per barrel industry-wide.
Alaska producers must compete internally for capital meaning, in ConocoPhillips’ case, other regions where the company is active. But firms in Alaska must also attract investment from other capital sources, Lelarge said.
That is becoming more challenging, he said, with banks and equity investors increasingly concerned with political risks facing Arctic projects, mainly because of climate change
How Market Factors Could Shape Demand for Cleaner Gas
Nikos Tsafos, Center for Strategic and International Studies, November 19, 2021
Reducing methane emissions from fossil-fuel operations can help the world meet its climate goals. In its “Net Zero by 2050” scenario, the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that methane emissions fall by 77 percent between 2020 and 2030, a reduction that would play a big role in limiting temperature increases.1 How to achieve this reduction in emissions is a public-policy question of the first order. Reducing emissions in producing countries will be critical, but it is also important to examine the policy levers and market innovations that can help to mitigate emissions in gas consuming countries and shape demand for cleaner gas.
One idea gaining traction is to treat natural gas differently based on its methane intensity—the ratio of methane emissions to the volume of natural gas produced. This could be done by setting a threshold for emissions intensity that gas must meet to enter a market or by linking the price to its intensity. These policies could help to create a market for “differentiated” or “cleaner” gas. Together with regulations and technical innovations, such measures can ensure that gas produced, transported, and consumed has the lowest intensity possible. Public policy measures of this nature could accompany, and possibly accelerate, a market evolution in which buyers will gradually pay a premium for lower-carbon gas.
To treat gas differently, however, a diverse set of governments, companies, and other stakeholders would have to collaborate. This will require collective efforts by both producer and consumer countries, including domestic regulation and possibly import standards. So far, the policy ambition on methane has come from countries that account for just 40 percent of the world’s methane emissions from fossil fuel operations, but the policy landscape is evolving quickly.2
The policy discourse tends to focus on high-profile initiatives such as the European Union’s methane strategy, but the European Union consumed just 12 percent of the world’s gas in 2020, and its demand has fallen in the past decade. Europe remains the primary destination for internationally traded pipeline gas but accounts for a small share of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) market: around 20 percent, on average, between 2011 and 2020. Europe also does not import any LNG from the Asia-Pacific region, which produced 36 percent of the world’s LNG in 2020. The European Union’s methane strategy is thus a positive step, but its global impact will be limited if other regions do not follow with their own policies to curb emissions.
This is especially true because, in 2020, two-thirds of the world’s gas was consumed in the country where it was produced. Gas is less of a global commodity than, for instance, oil (two-thirds of the world’s oil crossed a border in 2020). Therefore, efforts to reduce methane intensity of global gas must distinguish between gas that crosses borders and gas that is consumed at home.
Several aspects of the gas market will make it easier or harder for “differentiated gas” to take off and help to reduce methane emissions from the global gas industry. At the country level, the important considerations include the share of gas in the country’s energy mix; whether gas is used solely among big consumers (such as industry and power) or also in buildings and transported through distribution networks; the infrastructure for production, imports, exports, transportation, and consumption; the structure of the market; how prices are set; and the number of players involved.
A few other critical factors concern the nature of the global gas market. It is important to identify the big gas producers, consumers, importers, and exporters and to analyze where production and consumption are rising and falling. It is also crucial to consider the main trade corridors and the terms of trade for gas in different parts of the world.
Exploring these issues, this paper addresses two central questions: What aspects of the global gas market might facilitate the emergence of a market for cleaner gas, and what are the challenges that exist based on how this market is organized today?
Fed policies good, bad news for US miners
Shane Lasley, North 0f 60 Mining News, December 3, 2021
The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act brightens an otherwise gloomy outlook when it comes to federal policies that impact Alaska and its mining sector.
“I believe this is truly historic for our state,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said during a Nov. 17 address at the Alaska Resources Conference.
While the massive infrastructure bill passage was chalked up as a political win for President Joe Biden, the billions of dollars to be invested into upgrading and expanding Alaska’s sparse infrastructure will have an outsized impact on a state rightfully considered America’s Last Frontier.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, pointed out that Alaska has fewer road miles than Connecticut, a state about 120 times smaller.
“We are a resource-rich, infrastructure-poor state,” he said during the annual conference hosted by the Resource Development Council of Alaska.
This is why Alaska’s entire congressional delegation, all Republicans, as well as civic and political leaders across the 49th State, got behind the bipartisan legislation.
“It’s going to be a lot of money … billions of dollars to construct and modernize our roads, our bridges, our ports, our airports,” said Murkowski. “It’s not just going to be the opportunity for better roads, but to see more of them.”
More roads could help make Alaska’s rich mineral resources more competitive.
“It is often said that if Alaska’s impressive mineral deposits were in the state of Nevada, with infrastructure like roads, ports, and energy grids, they would already be mines,” said Alaska Miners Association Executive Director Deantha Skibinski. “We’re pleased that the infrastructure package includes significant investment in building Alaska, which will make investment in resource development more attractive.”
For Alaska’s mining sector, however, provisions to streamline the federal mine permitting process may be even more important than the massive investments into roads, rails, ports, airports, and other infrastructure that will be built from the minerals and metals these mines could supply.
“The federal agencies are going to have a responsibility and a requirement to start issuing permits more efficiently and with less delay,” said Murkowski.
Alaska’s senior senator pushed back on the notion that the infrastructure bill is a bad thing because it is being chalked up as a win for the Biden administration.
“This is a win for the country, this is a solid win for Alaska,” she said. “This not some kind of creeping socialism or Green New Deal.”
Murkowski, on the other hand, says the partisan budget reconciliation bill crafted by Democrats could severely impact the development of the natural resource projects Alaska’s economy depends on.
“The House reconciliation bill is entirely partisan, and nowhere more so than in its resource provisions,” she said. “Those policies – which are all but designed to eliminate energy and mineral production in federal areas – are a gift to OPEC, Russia, and China at the worst possible time.”
There, however, is an alternative energy vision being championed by Alaska’s own Sen. Sullivan that endeavors to create American jobs and make the U.S. less dependent on foreign countries for its oil, natural gas, and critical mineral needs.
“Our vision recognizes that American natural resources can be leveraged to produce millions of jobs in related U.S. manufacturing sectors, including clean technology,” Sullivan said when introducing the American Energy, Jobs & Climate Plan.
Critical minerals funding
In addition to the need for the enormous quantities of minerals and metals to upgrade America’s roads, rails, bridges, ports, energy, and other infrastructure, the mining sector is poised to benefit greatly from critical minerals funding included the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
This includes more than $1.6 billion in critical minerals funding going to the United States Geological Survey and Department of Energy.
The infrastructure act allots $320 million over five years to USGS’s Earth Mapping Resources Initiative to help characterize the distribution of critical minerals in the U.S.
Better known as Earth MRI, this program combines traditional geological work with the latest technologies in lidar, magnetic surveys, satellites, and unmanned aerial vehicles to seek out hidden stores of critical minerals such as cobalt, graphite, lithium, niobium, platinum group metals, rare earths, tin, and tungsten.
The Earth MRI funding included in the infrastructure bill is equivalent to roughly 30 years of U.S. critical mineral resources mapping covered by the previous budget of just over $10 million per year.
USGS was allocated another $167 million in the current fiscal year to establish a USGS-owned academic facility for energy and minerals research.
While USGS accelerates its Earth MRI program, DOE will have $400 million to award critical minerals mining and recycling research and development grants over the next four years.
The $100 million-per-year funding will continue investments DOE has made over the past years into diversifying the supply of, developing substitutes for, and improving the reuse and recycling of these metals critical for clean energy and high-tech applications.
“Expanding electric vehicle infrastructure, hardening our nation’s electrical grid, and powering our economy with millions of clean energy jobs all rely on securing supply chains of critical materials like cobalt and platinum,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said earlier this year.
The infrastructure bill also provides DOE with $140 million this year to establish a rare earths research facility.
Streamlining U.S. mine permitting
Policies to streamline federal mine permitting included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act offer another bright spot for America’s mining sector.
“When it comes to mining, we took the real first step in decades when it comes to mine permitting,” said Murkowski.
This includes permanent authorization of the Fast-41 permitting dashboard, which was established in 2015 to improve the timeliness, predictability, and transparency of federal environmental review and authorization process for domestic infrastructure projects.
Short for Title 41 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, Fast-41 created the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPISC), a unique federal entity that provides a one-stop-shop capable of coordinating permits across different federal agencies, thereby streamlining and shortening the overall process for large infrastructure projects that are eligible for the program.
Recognizing that minerals and metals are a vital input into the front end of America’s infrastructure supply chains, federal officials voted to make certain mining projects eligible for Fast-41 permitting.
Murkowski says the federal coordination offered by the FPISC and the Fast-41 dashboard has reduced the federal permitting timeline for large projects from 4.5 to 2.5 years.
Alaska mine projects poised to deliver minerals critical to America’s infrastructure, such as Graphite One Inc.’s Graphite Creek and Ucore Rare Metals Inc.’s Bokan Mountain rare earths projects, would be eligible for the Fast-41 program.
The infrastructure bill also fully enacts the American Minerals Security Act coauthored by senators Murkowski and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., which directs the White House to “coordinate the appropriate agencies to implement U.S. policy regarding critical minerals, including to establish an analytical and forecasting capability for identifying critical mineral market factors so as to avoid supply shortages, mitigate price volatility, and prepare for demand growth and other market shifts.”
Alaska’s senior senator says this legislation will improve the timeliness and efficiency for the permitting of critical mineral projects such as Graphite Creek, Bokan Mountain, and the cobalt enriched Upper Kobuk Mineral Projects in Alaska’s Ambler Mining District.
The number of critical mineral projects in Alaska would expand significantly if the USGS proposal to add nickel and zinc to the list of minerals critical to the U.S. is finalized.
“The USGS’s critical minerals list provides vital information for industry, policymakers, economists and scientists on the most important minerals when it comes to U.S. supply chains,” Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo said when the proposed list of 50 critical minerals was released for 30 days of public comment on Nov. 9.
Worrisome reconciliation bill
While the billions of dollars of Alaska infrastructure upgrades and mine permitting reforms packed into the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is something the Alaska delegation could get behind, the even larger budget reconciliation bill being crafted by Democrats worries the trio.
“We don’t know what is in it – the Democrats are working it through behind closed doors, the Republicans are solidly shut out of the process and have been from day one,” said Murkowski.
America’s mining sector, however, had a pair of champions behind those closed doors.
This includes Sen. Manchin, who helped reduce some of the more onerous mining provisions proposed by his Democrat colleagues.
“He is currently considered the most important Joe in Washington D.C., even beating out the president for that title,” National Mining Association Executive Vice President Katie Sweeney said during a Nov. 4 online breakfast meeting hosted by the Resource Development Council of Alaska.
This is because Manchin, a more conservative Democrat, can and has held up some of the more liberal bills in an equally split Senate.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., also helped remove some of the more onerous provisions from the reconciliation bill before it went up for a vote in the House.
The reconciliation bill originally included new gross mineral royalties of 8% on new and 4% on existing mining operations on mineral lands.
As a senator for one of the top mining jurisdictions on Earth, Cortez Masto drew a line in the Nevada sand, forcing her colleagues to remove these steep mining taxes from the reconciliation bill.
The reconciliation bill also originally included 20% royalties on new federal leases, which was stripped from the $2.2 trillion measure known as the Social Safety Net and Climate Bill that was narrowly passed in the House on Nov. 19.
While the worst of the mining provisions were removed from the reconciliation bill that is now in the Senate, Alaska’s delegation sharply criticized the measure due to remaining provisions that would harm Alaska’s ability to responsibly produce energy and mineral resources needed by the rest of the country and the world.
The most detrimental, according to the Alaska lawmakers, is a repeal of the oil and gas program for the non-wilderness portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“In the midst of high energy prices and mounting inflation, responsible domestic production from Alaska, including the prospective 1002 Area is needed more than ever,” Murkowski said.
Congressman Don Young, R-Alaska, said he is disappointed but not surprised by this move by House colleagues.
“Democrats insist that the bill they passed this morning will help us ‘Build Back Better,’ but with the anti-ANWR provisions included in the bill, all they will accomplish is a betrayal of our dedicated energy workers and their families, forcing them to ‘Build Back Broke,'” he said following the Nov. 19 passage of the reconciliation bill.
“If the concern is carbon emissions, what sense does it make to shut down responsible energy production in ANWR only to force a greater reliance on foreign oil from countries with far lower environmental standards?” he queried.
Sen. Sullivan called the provisions of the reconciliation bill the latest salvo in “an all-out war on Alaska’s economy and the domestic energy sector.”
“The bottom line is this: In the middle of a nationwide energy price spike, President Biden is intent on giving pink slips to hard-working Americans and Alaskans and decimating the U.S. energy sector, while begging OPEC and Russia to produce more oil,” he said.
Manchin and a handful of moderate Democratic senators have not committed to voting on the reconciliation bill passed by the House. The measure is considered a nonstarter without all Democratic senators on board.
Sullivan’s energy plan
With the idea that developing abundant domestic resources is both better for American workers and the global climate than the progressive policies that are pushing gas and home heating fuel prices higher, Senators Sullivan, Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., recently introduced the American Energy, Jobs & Climate Plan.
Sullivan says the higher heating costs being levied on Americans is not an unfortunate byproduct of federal policies, but an outcome desired by the White House.
“From day one, this administration has actually set on a purposeful course to really crank up energy prices on the backs of working Americans,” said the Alaska senator. “When it is costing 40 to 50% more to fill up your car or your truck to go to work or to go out at Thanksgiving to visit family and friends, people notice.”
The competing vision put forward by Sullivan, Cramer, and Lummis is built upon five pillars:
• Expand current power and energy production base to leverage America’s world-class energy resources.
• Support infrastructure, resources, investments, and incentives to build out the American renewable energy manufacturing and electricity sector.
• Leverage America’s energy and natural resource abundance and independence to create millions of good-paying jobs in the energy and manufacturing sectors.
• Enact permitting reform to ensure all energy, mineral, and infrastructure projects can be built in an efficient, timely, and certain manner.
• Take advantage of America’s abundant energy and natural resources to rebuild the American supply chain.
By meeting domestic energy needs with oil, gas, and critical minerals produced under America’s strict environmental standards, the crafters of the American Energy, Jobs & Climate Plan say this strategy has the potential to reduce global emissions by up to 40% by 2050.
“Our framework is based on American abundance and leveraging America’s many unique strengths, especially our world-class natural resources, whose production has actually brought down emissions and the lowest carbon intensive manufacturing in the world,” said Sullivan.
This includes domestic mining of the critical minerals metals needed to build America’s electric vehicles and renewable energy sectors, commodities that are abundant in Sullivan’s home state.
“Right now, we are importing the vast majority of those from China,” the Alaska senator said during a Nov. 17 address at the Alaska Resources Conference.
The sponsors of the American Energy, Jobs & Climate Plan believe their strategy to improve the climate, bring down energy costs, and create jobs is something all Americans can get behind.
“We believe our vision and framework is mainstream. It’s common sense and has the potential to be bipartisan,” said Sullivan.
State commission plans to cut Alaska lawmakers’ per-diem expense payments
James Brooks, Anchorage Daily News, December 5, 2021
Citing public concern over the cost of Alaska legislators’ daily expense payments, the five-member Alaska State Officers Compensation Commission is planning to strictly limit those payments and boost lawmakers’ base salary to compensate.
“This really is a magic moment for people who want to do something,” said commission chairman and former Democratic state Sen. Johnny Ellis during a meeting discussing the proposal.
As of Friday, commission staff had yet to provide a written version of a proposal discussed informally by commissioners during a Nov. 29 meeting, and commissioners also said they didn’t have written copies.
he commission is scheduled to meet Dec. 16 to finalize the exact amount and has not yet taken public testimony, required by state law.
Legislators are currently paid $50,400 per year and can claim $293 in per diem for each day the Legislature is in session. (Travel, relocation, and office expenses are also paid by the state.)
From 2015 through 2021, lawmakers additionally collected an average of $35,000 per year in tax-free per diem.
Final figures for 2021 are not yet available, but in the comparably long 2017 legislative session, legislators averaged $41,800 in per diem, plus their salary.
With the Legislature repeatedly called into special session, the amount of per diem has risen, drawing public ire.
Ellis and other commissioners said on Nov. 29 that by reducing per diem and increasing base salary, they hope to eliminate any financial incentive that could encourage lawmakers to extend their work.
“I do think, and I think the public thinks that they inadvertently benefit from going beyond their 121-day sessions,” said commissioner Lee Cruise in an interview.
Reducing per diem “may encourage legislators to come together and get things done sooner,” he said.
But not all special sessions are called by the Legislature itself, and those held in Juneau require legislators to maintain two households — one at home, and one in Juneau.
By increasing base salaries to compensate for the loss of per diem, commissioners said they hope to avoid a situation where only wealthy Alaskans can afford to serve in the Legislature.
“We were getting to be a Legislature of people who were just retirees or people who had good oil company jobs or labor industry jobs,” Ellis said during the meeting.
Members of the commission also will propose pay increases for the governor, lieutenant governor and the heads of state departments. Their pay hasn’t changed since 2011, and commissioners would increase it by 1% for each year since then, a figure that commissioners concluded was roughly half of inflation during the period. The governor’s salary, for example, would rise from $145,000 per year to about $163,000.
“The idea is not to go in and give raises. The idea is to be cognizant of the fact that we are going through an inflationary time,” said commissioner Carrigan Grigsby in an interview.
Grigsby and Cruise each said that the wages paid to top state officials haven’t kept up with their private-sector equivalents.
“Yeah, it’s public service, but at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be prohibitive for people who don’t have a retirement fund or somebody who’s a little more well-off,” Grigsby said.
Commissioner Kurt Olson, a former Republican legislator from Soldotna, pointed out that there are hundreds of state employees who earned more than the governor in 2020.
Under state law, the compensation commission’s recommendations are adopted automatically unless rejected by the Legislature and governor. According to the schedule in state law, the change for the governor, lieutenant governor and commissioners would take effect July 1, and the change in legislative pay would begin in January 2023.
Under state law, the commission is supposed to provide recommendations on top officials’ pay at least once every two years. According to legislative clerks, it hasn’t done so since January 2018. At that time, the commission eliminated per diem for lawmakers if they live within 50 miles of the Legislature’s location.
In late 2019, commissioners informally recommended no changes to legislators’ pay but said they were likely to address per diem in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic precluded that from happening, former commission member Mike Miller said at the time.
Chair of Nuclear Regulatory Commission touts ‘passive safety’ of small reactors, like the type planned for Eielson
Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media, December 6, 2021
The chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said he’s intrigued by the kind of small nuclear power plant the military wants to install at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks.
“The safety features that they have …(are) kind of passive safety features, right?” Chairman Christopher Hanson said at a U.S. Senate hearing last week. “It doesn’t have as many moving parts, so there aren’t as many things to break, or pay attention to.”
The Air Force announced in October that it has chosen Eielson for a first-of-its-kind mini reactor. It would supply about half of the electricity the base needs. Eielson now primarily relies on a 70-year-old coal-burning power plant.
Hanson said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing several concepts for micro-reactors and one license application.
He told U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan the technology could be a boon for remote areas because they don’t need new fuel every year or two, as standard large reactors do.
“Some of these micro-reactors don’t have to be refueled for 10 or even 20 years, depending on the fuel formulation,” Hanson said. “So that has the potential, as you point out, to bring down the delivered cost of energy. Which of course is, I know, of great concern to Alaskans.”
According to the U.S. Energy Department, most micro-reactor designs rely on highly concentrated uranium-235.
Massive radioactive disasters in the Soviet Union and Japan have damaged the reputation of nuclear power, which a lot of Americans have never trusted. Despite concerns about radioactive waste and pollution, some advocates say nuclear power is a solution to climate change.
The Air Force hopes to have a micro-reactor running at Eielson by the end of 2027. It would be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and owned by a commercial enterprise.