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The Upcoming Alaska Primary

10:48 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Alaska U.S. Senate GOP Primary candidates prepare to debate in Anchorage in mid-August

On Tuesday, Alaskan super voters will go to the polls to decide a few important contests. The two most important for the future of the state are the GOP three-way contest to oppose Sen. (D) Mark Begich’s US Senate seat in November, and a voters’ referendum on Alaska’s tax structure for the oil industry.

Unprecedented amounts of money are pouring into our state, which, after decades of GOP and Democratic Party neo-Liberal governance, may be about to enter a huge economic and financial tailspin.  Briefly, however, this summer and fall, Alaska TV and radio stations are seeing windfall profits in the millions of dollars in ads against incumbent Begich, against GOP candidate Dan Sullivan, and against repeal of Alaska Senate Bill 21.  This Outside level of spending, by Karl Rove’s PAC, by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, by British Petroleum, Conoco-Phillips and Exxon-Mobil, is enormous, with over $10 million being spent to influence less than 125,000 voters.

The three-way GOP U.S. Senate primary has seen former Alaska Attorney General and Commissioner of Natural Resources, Dan Sullivan (not to be confused with current Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, who is running in the GOP primary for the Lieutenant Governor slot) raising far more money than his two opponents combined.  They are former Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell and Tea Party favorite, Joe Miller.  Miller, who beat incumbent U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary in 2010, only to lose to her in the general election, is trailing both Sullivan and Treadwell in the polls, but his followers are ardent, and are notoriously difficult to poll accurately.  Sen. Begich has no serious challengers in the Democratic primary.

The voters’ referendum on oil taxes pits the big oil companies against reformers who feel the tax system put in place by the 2013 Alaska Legislature gives far too much away to the giant corporations.  The referendum is on the primary ballot instead of the general election slate because the oil companies managed to co-opt legislators into extending their 2014 session in such a way as to force other ballot initiatives onto the November ticket.  As these initiatives (legalizing cannabis, raising the minimum wage, and protecting salmon stocks from mega mines such as Pebble) are popular with progressives, the oil companies wanted the vote on their taxes to be held in the primary, where voter turnout is more conservative, more hardened.

Here are two videos that focus on the GOP Senate primary, and on the oil tax referendum.

The first is one of the few debates when candidate Sullivan deigned to appear on stage with the other two.  The debate was held on August 12th in Anchorage:

I am predicting that Joe Miller’s supporters will do far better than the polling indicates.

The second video item is a comparison between Alaska’s oil tax structure to those in several other areas.  It purports to show that rather than over-taxed here, as the industry’s supporters stridently claim, the companies enjoy enormous profits here, compared to the rest of the U.S. or globally:

In spite of the oil companies outspending the pro-referendum supporters about 40 to one, the most recent polls show the vote to be too close to call.

“Singing in Tongues” Youtube in Steambath by GOP AK Senate Primary Candidate May Complicate Race

3:21 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Alaska blogger, journalist and writer Amanda Coyne has posted a Youtube of one of the four GOP Alaska U.S. Senate Primary candidates.  In it, the longshot entry in the four-way race may have inadvertently helped her low budget campaign more than anything she intentionally produced might have done.  In places, candidate Kathleen Tonn sings in tongues.  She sings in a steam bath, joined at the end of the video by her friend, Suzie:

Coyne writes:

Tonn is a pro-life candidate. Her candidacy has received little attention so far compared to the three other frontrunners running in the Republican primary—[Tea Party favorite] Joe Miller, [not Anchorage Mayor, but the other one - ex- Alaska AG] Dan Sullivan, and [current Lieutenant Governor] Mead Treadwell. That might change after the video gets around.

The gift of tongues is a considered by those who have the gift—including this writer’s mother– to be highly sacred and it is considered forbidden to be used as publicity. It’s unclear whether the video had any effect on Suzie, who appears briefly at the end, clad in a towel. “That was beautiful,” Suzie says.

I’ll be writing more soon about the 2014 Alaska U.S. Senate primary and other issues warming up here in an important election year.

Shell Hopes to Resume Alaskan Arctic Drilling in 2014

12:07 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

The Kulluk in happier times

Royal Dutch Shell announced to shareholders last week that they are contemplating a resumption of oil drilling in Arctic waters adjacent to Alaska this coming summer season:

“We have not yet confirmed if we drill in 2014, but we do expect to file an exploration plan shortly, maybe in the next couple of weeks. It’s likely to be focused on the Chukchi,” Shell Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry told reporters in a media teleconference detailing the company’s third-quarter results.

Shell reported third-quarter earnings that were nearly a third lower than those for the third quarter of 2012. The company cited numerous reasons for the drop, including weaker refinery-business conditions, increased upstream operations and exploration costs, challenges in Nigeria and reduced dividends from an LNG venture.

After an expensive series of mishaps in late 2012 and early 2013, Shell sat out the recently ended 2013 drilling season, as they licked their self-inflicted wounds:

The New Year’s Eve grounding of the Kulluk, the Shell-owned drill ship dedicated to Beaufort operations, was apparently the final blow to the company’s plans to operate there, at least for the foreseeable future. The Kulluk was so badly damaged in the grounding that it may never return to service. It’s been in a Singapore shipyard for months.

“We will not take the Kulluk back next year,” Henry said. “The repair costs may exceed the benefits of doing so.”

The so-called “impairment costs” for the Kulluk could be “a few hundred million dollars in the fourth quarter,” he said. Shell is replacing the Kulluk with a leased drill rig, the Polar Pioneer, Henry said. That ship, owned by Transocean, is semi-submersible unit that is nearly square — 279 feet long and 233 feet wide, according to Transocean’s website.

If Shell pursues Chukchi drilling, it will be done with the Noble Discoverer, the leased drill ship that operated in the Chukchi in 2012, said Megan Baldino, Shell’s Anchorage spokeswoman. The company intends to bring the Noble Discoverer back to Alaska, she said. The Polar Pioneer is intended to be the back-up rig available to drill a relief well, in accordance with federal regulations, Baldino said.

Shell has already spent about $5 billion on its Alaska oil-exploration program, but has managed so far to drill only the top portions of two wells, one in the Chukchi and one in the Beaufort. The company was forbidden by federal authorities to drill into oil-bearing zones because a mandatory oil-containment barge failed to pass U.S. Coast Guard tests in time for the 2012 drilling season.

Henry, in the conference call, said that vessel, the Arctic Challenger, now has regulatory clearance, but that all of the two dozen ships in the fleet that Shell would amass for future Chukchi drilling must also pass new regulatory muster.

The new regulatory muster they must pass is still indefinite, as not all investigations into Shell’s botched 2012 efforts have concluded.  They must submit an entirely new exploration plan to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a new marine mammal protection plan to the National Marine Fisheries  Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, clean air permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, and even more:

Shell must comply with yet-to-be-issued Arctic-specific rules for future oil and gas activities. Those rules are expected to be released by BOEM before the end of the year, and are expected to cover travel to and from the Arctic — as well as any activities by drillers. The rules are being drafted in response to a Department of Interior investigation into the Kulluk grounding and Shell’s other 2012 woes.

And the U.S. Coast Guard Kulluk grounding investigation has not issued its final report.

My gut feeling is that Shell doesn’t really hold out great hopes for 2014 Alaskan waters drilling.  Greenpeace seems to be thinking along the same lines:

Shell’s Arctic bravado is a desperate attempt to reassure its investors, but the facts tell a different story. Brushing off the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars and casually scrapping a drilling platform are not the actions of a company in control of its operations,” Ben Ayliffe, Greenpeace International’s Arctic campaign leader, said in a statement issued hours after Shell’s teleconference.

“In 2012 Shell proved it is completely unfit to drill in the remote Arctic, a place of unrivaled beauty where any spill would be an environmental catastrophe. In April, it signed a joint deal with Russia’s state owned giant Gazprom, one of the world’s most polluting oil companies with a record of serious negligence. Shell has run out of options, and is prepared to gamble its reputation on projects and partnerships that other oil companies have dismissed as far too risky,” Ayliffe said.

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Alaska Sen. Begich Finally Comes Out of the Closet – In Support of Gay Marriage

7:37 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Mark Begich at the Iditarod

On the eve of the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing of California Proposition Eight’s legality, Alaska Sen. Mark Begich has finally come out fully in support of equal rights for gay couples:

Gay and lesbian couples should not be denied the ability to pledge their love and commitment through the civil institution of marriage. I believe that two committed adults of the same sex should be able to receive a government-issued marriage license, while religious institutions retain their right to determine which marriages they will perform.

Begich went on to say, “Government should keep out of individuals’ personal lives—if someone wants to marry someone they love, they should be able to. Alaskans are fed up with government intrusion into our private lives, our daily business, and in the way we manage our resources and economy.”

Earlier Begich had been far more vague in his support.  He faces a tough reelection battle in 2014 against opposition surely to be led by the same conservative Christians who inflicted Sarah Palin and Joe Miller onto the national psyche.  Representative of these types, are some of the comments coming in at The Hill‘s article on Begich’s announcement:

This is Begichs last term !!! 

How can politicians continue to “evolve” on the issue of gay marriage when it stands as such an obvious contradiction to evolution? 

Looks like another Republican pickup in 2014, Alaska is one of the redest [sic] states in the nation, they elected Sarah Palin after all…

However, those of us who have long followed Begich’s hirings as mayor of Anchorage and in the U.S. Senate, and know his staff, understand Mark has always been very welcoming and inclusive.  Among his most staunch supporters among staffers and former employees have been several openly gay men and women, some of whom are my friends.  I remember back during the Democratic Primary of 2008, when I was supporting his opponent, Ray Metcalfe, getting several calls from gay friends (and other friends) who urged me to look more deeply into Mark’s record and qualifications.

Begich’s endorsement wasn’t the only recent one from a previously less committed Democrat, but Business Insider noted it as “perhaps the most significant,” because of Begich’s upcoming reelection campaign.

With national-level GOP strategists claiming their party needs to be more inclusive, the GOP reaction to Begich’s statement and further actions might give us some idea of how the party might choose to enforce their drive to move from the 19th to the 21st century.

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U.S. Department of the Interior Releases Review of Shell Oil 2012 Arctic Drilling Operations – The Press Conference – Updated

1:11 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller


Kulluk on the beach

At 4:30 PM, Washington DC time Thursday, outgoing Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar and others, held a press conference to announce the release of their expedited 60-day review of Shell’s 2012 Alaska Arctic drilling operations, which were plagued by a series of fiascos.  Along with Salazar, the following DOI officials participated:

• David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior
• Tommy Beaudreau, Interior’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management and Director of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
• James A. Watson, Director of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

Here’s what DOI put out in their media advisory:

Salazar will be joined by Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes, who chairs the Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau, who led the assessment; and James A. Watson, Director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

In January, Secretary Salazar directed the high-level review of Shell’s 2012 offshore drilling program in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas – including the company’s preparations for last year’s drilling season and its maritime and emergency response operations – to identify challenges and lessons learned.

I attended telephonically.  The following is the best I could do between trying to quote, and getting fair paraphrasing:

Salazar opened with a statement describing Obama’s commitment to the development of offshore and Arctic regimes, both oil and natural gas.  ”Under the president’s leadership domestic oil production has grown every year …..  Oil imports have dropped to 45%, the lowest percentage since 1995.”

“Last summer we allowed Shell to proceed with limited activity in Alaska’s Arctic.  Because Shell wasn’t able to meet safety requirements, they were only aslloed to drill preliminary holes.  We and the USCG watched closely.

“We learned a lot, partially from Shell’s mishaps.  On January 8th, I directed an assessment and review of Shell’s 2012 activities.”

Salazar notes that Shell came to DOI, to announce their drilling suspension for 2013.  Salazar defers to Beaudreau’s 60-day report.

Introduces “Tommy”:

B describes their “37-page report.”  Participants were also USCG and Price Waterhouse.  B states “Shell also cooperated.  Meetings in Washington DC, Alaska and Washington state.”  Also met with Alaska Native groups, environmentalists and other governmental agencies.


All phases of Arctic operations must be integrated and subject to strong operator management and government oversight.

Operators must submit detailed descriptions of operations before,. during and after.

Shell fell too short in terms of management and planning.  Serious violations of permits in terms of discharges and demands 3rd party involvement in management of oversight regime by Shell.

Seems to slam Shell for not using adequate local and professional knowledge.

Turns the mike over to Hayes:

The review confirmed the importance of interagency coordination between Federal agencies in offshore drilling. (I think he is glossing over the 2012 problems severely, as he praises how Fed agencies performed.)

The report confirms the appropriateness of “Arctic-specific standards” for equipment, operations and management.

He all but praises Shell for their performance while actually drilling the lead holes in the Chukchi and Beaufort.

Turns over to Admiral Watson, USCG:

Blah, blah, blah, Shell OK, blah….

Questions from press:

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Alaska Native Women React to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Racist Vote on VAWA – Updated

11:02 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Portait of Lisa Murkowski

Alaska's Senator Lisa Murkowski continues to defend a Violence Against Women Act special rule that many call racist.

A battle is brewing in Alaska over how to interpret Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s involvement in, and final vote upon, Senate Bill 47, the Violence Against Women Act.  Murkowski was a co-sponsor of the bill, and has been proclaiming for weeks her progressive role in this important legislation. On February 27th, her main media supporter in Alaska, the Alaska Dispatch posted:

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Lisa Murkowski reached out to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) along with two of her Senate colleagues and urged the Speaker to take up the Senate-passed S.47 Violence Against Women Act reauthorization act.

The Violence Against Women Act reauthorization – which Senator Murkowski co-sponsored –passed the Senate two weeks ago with the support of 78 Senators and over 1300 organizationsrepresenting domestic and sexual violence groups like the AWAIC shelter in Anchorage. A champion of this legislation, Murkowski joined Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) in writing a letter to Boehner advocating for action on the Senate version of the bill.

Yet, as the bill approached final voting and passage, Murkowski insinuated herself into its structure regarding the vast majority of Alaska Native women:

Our senior senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, added a “Special Rule for the State of Alaska” to the VAWA. That rule effectively bars 40 percent of American tribes from being able to protect their women. Our senator excluded 229 Alaska communities from that part of the act.

The Association of Village Council Presidents and the Aleut community of St. Paul Island spoke out against the Alaska exclusion. The Alaska Inter-Tribal Council said it “objects to anti-Alaska Tribal Provisions in the Violence Against Women Act.”

The Tanana Chiefs Conference opposed it. The Native American Rights Fund led the charge against it.

The AFN wrote to the senator: “Although Alaska Natives comprise only 15.2 percent of the population of the State of Alaska, they comprise 47 percent of the victims of domestic violence and 61 percent of the victims of sexual assault.”

Murkowski ignored their requests.

The above, written by Anchorage Daily News opinion columnist Shannyn Moore, got under Murkowski’s skin.  On Facebook, she wrote:

I am discouraged by Ms. Moore’s research and I am disheartened by the attempt to score partisan points on an issue that should be above politics.

Apparently, Murkoski had second thoughts, because the comment is no longer there.  See Update.

The Native American Rights Fund issued this statement on Murkowski’s racist stance:

Almost 100 tribes in Alaska had opposed this exclusion. The Association of Village Council Presidents (A VCP), representing 56 tribes, and the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island (ACSPI) had both issued very clear and direct press releases opposing the Alaska exclusion. The Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), representing 37 tribes, also opposed the Alaska exclusion. Taken together, this represents one sixth of the tribes in the United States that demanded the Alaska exclusion be removed. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who authored the Alaska exclusion apparently at the urging of the Alaska Attorney General’s office, rebuffed all requests to remove the exclusion.

“We are tired of the separate but equal treatment that Alaska tribes receive from courts and Congress,” said NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth. “They are tribes just like tribes in the Lower 48 and they are entitled to be treated like all other tribes. These exclusions, which have found their way into numerous bills over the years, say to Alaska’s tribes that they are different and lesser than other tribes. In the case of VAWA, it means that Alaska Native women are less deserving of protection, less important. I find that unconscionable.”

Commenters at Moore’s ADN op-ed are livid:

As an Alaska Native woman, I feel personally “targeted” by Murkowski’s move to leave so many communities (229!), mine included probably, out of the Violence Against Women’s Act. As one of her constituents, I feel that she did me a great, and very personal, disservice! I hope that those who practically moved little bits of heaven and earth to get her re-elected remember it at the next election.

It also doesn’t seem “kosher” for a governor, and Attorney General of a state, to NOT push for more safety measures to fight violence against women, anywhere. So much for Parnell’s “choose respect” campaign. Not only is his stance disrespectful to women of a certain race, it is going against the very “choose respect” stance that he says is so important in rural Alaska. All of their actions smack of blatant disrespect, in more ways than one. Elected politicians are to seek and ensure protections for their constituents, not obstruct them.

Many other commenters expressed similar concerns.

Shopping today in Anchorage, I bumped into a longtime friend, an Alaska Native woman, employed by a large Native corporation, dependent upon Murkowski’s Senatorial largesse. Asking her about the Senator’s vote, she all but spat out, “That bitch!  She Fucked us!  Don’t quote me on this….”

Why did Murkoski fuck over Alaska Natives in this racist way?  Moore explains that it is over resources and the senator’s ties to the Parnell administration:

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How To Deal With Wingnuts Ranting About That “Fucking Fascist Commie Chavez”

1:00 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

WTBP 5-30-09 - NWO coat

I live in Wasilla, so have gotten used to dealing with wingnuts.

There didn’t used to be so many of them, but their women get pregnant early and often.  Many have families with over ten children.  Between the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividends (12 X $1,600), and state assistance for home schooling seven of the kids (7 X $2,700), a typical large wingnut Christianist family of twelve pulls in over $38,000 per year in tax-free state assistance, even if both mom and dad are working.  And they’re fixing to make it better for them, you betcha.

I call it evangelical welfare.

Today I’m in the waiting room at the local medical clinic, waiting to have the packing pulled out of a wound I’ve been dealing with.  The TV announces Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ demise.

People actually cheer.

The guy reading a year-old issue of Guns & Ammo in the chair next to me loudly mutters “Good riddance, you fucking commie fascist!”

He looks vaguely familiar – perhaps from one of the Tea Party events I’ve covered in Wasilla.

“Did he do something to you?” I ask.

“Didn’t you see Red Dawn?  That was about him!”

“The old version of the movie, or the new one?” I return.

“Whaddya mean, old – new?  It’s all the same.”

“OK.” I reply.  ”You don’t think he was a very good president, do you?”

“Fucking president!?  He was a goddam fucking dictator.  Do you know how many people he killed?”

“A lot?” I ask.

“You don’t know shit, do you?”  He’s trying to scope me out at this point.

“Maybe I don’t know as much as you do,” I retort, “but I speak Spanish and read articles in the Latin American press. Was Chavez worse than the guy he replaced?”


I reiterate, “Was Hugo Chavez worse than President Larrazabal?”

“Uh, Goddam right he was….”

“How about President Chalboud?”

“Did Chavez kill him too?” the guy asks.

“I doubt it.  But maybe al Qaeda killed Chalboud and Larrazabal, to make way for Chavez?  You wouldn’t put it past them, would you?”

“Hey!  I’m beginning to like you.”

Someone at the reception desk calls my name.  I get up and shake the hand of the Chavez critic.  ”Who do you think would be a good successor of Chavez for Americans?”

“What…..success … or.. what….?” he queries.

I finish with “Nice talking to you,” as I amble off to get my blood pressure taken.

Anyone have a similar story?

flickr  image by Philip Munger

Shell Announces It Will “pause its exploration drilling activity for 2013 in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas”

11:27 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk tow

On Tuesday, Shell Oil’s wounded conical drill rig, the Kulluk, was towed out of Kiliuda Bay on Kodiak Island, headed back to Dutch Harbor, and from there, to a Korean shipyard.

Today, the oil giant announced the following:

“We’ve made progress in Alaska, but this is a long-term programme that we are pursuing in a safe and measured way,” said  Marvin Odum, Director, Upstream Americas.  “Our decision to pause in 2013 will give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people following the drilling season in 2012.”

Alaska holds important energy resources. At the same time, securing access to those resources requires special expertise, technology and an in depth understanding of the environmental and societal sensitivities unique to the region. Shell is one of the leaders in an industry move into offshore Arctic exploration. The company continues to use its extensive experience in Arctic and sub-Arctic environments to prepare for safe activities in Alaska.

Alaska remains an area with high potential for Shell over the long term, and the company is committed to drill there again in the future. If exploration proves successful, resources there would take years to develop.

Shell’s other rig which had been used in their trouble-plagued 2012 season, the Noble Discoverer, is berthed in Seward, Alaska, awaiting arrival of a giant floating, powered dry dock, which will bring it to an Asian ship yard.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, according to my talk with his D.C. staff last week, has moved his Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard hearing or hearings on Shell’s 2012-2013 conduct from March to May, but provided no further detail.

The Department of Interior will be issuing their report on Shell’s permit to drill in the Arctic by March 10th.

The U.S. Coast Guard has turned their findings on the Noble Discoverer‘s severe shortcomings over to the U.S. Justice Department, for possible criminal prosecution.

And the blog, Alaska Chinook, is reporting the following:

According to reliable sources, a member of the Alaska delegation may soon be under indictment for back-door pressuring the EPA to allow SHELL to move forward with its 2012 drilling program – which culminated with environmental crimes. When it became known that contaminated engine fuel could not meet the EPA “Air Quality” permitting and such would have caused SHELL to vacate any attempts to continue its 2012 exploration program, a project that has seen a whole lot of discomfort and controversy so far, instead of not backing off and adhering to its permitting criteria, SHELL was given the “Green light” to continue on with its program.

Stormy weather ahead for Shell.

Cost to Shell of Kulluk Grounding? $90 Million and Counting ….

1:38 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Shell arctic drilling deployment scheme

Thursday, at Shell Oil’s annual Results Conference in London, Shell CEO Peter Voser delivered a prepared address on the company’s global performance during 2012.  It included little information about the energy giant’s 2012 Alaska Arctic drilling season fiascos we don’t already know:

“Despite making some progress we have run into problems in the last few months. Our rigs will need more work if they are going to be ready for the 2013 drilling season. One, the Noble Discoverer needs a series of upgrades, and the other, the Kulluk, ran aground in a heavy storm on New Year’s Eve and has been damaged.”

After the address, though, Vosser answered questions from the press.  His answers provided some new information.  Questioned on whether or not Shell had decided to move the rigs when they did to avoid paying millions in Alaska taxes, Vosser tried to wriggle out from under previous statements and information available through Shell officials in Alaska:

Tim Webb, the energy editor at The Times in London, asked Voser if Shell was moving the rig from Unalaska to Seattle in order to evade Alaska’s oil and gas property tax.

“Assuming you say that’s true, because I think that came from Shell, would you say that’s an example of Shell not managing risks correctly, or making a poor decision in terms of managing risk in Alaska?”

In response, Voser denied that the decision to move the rig had anything to do with taxes, saying that the $5-6 million they would have had to pay is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

“There was a statement made by a Shell person, but in a completely different context, in a completely different meeting. That was then taken out of that context and then someone made a story out it. Just to be very clear on this one.”

The original story was written by Dutch Harbor Fisherman reporter Jim Paulin. In it, he quoted an email from Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith that was sent before the grounding. Paulin says he stands by his reporting.

“And I don’t think Shell would be backing away from that comment had it not gone aground. I think they would have been sending lobbyists to Juneau to try to repeal that tax. And I think that would be, in my opinion, the motivation for making that comment that it influenced their decision to move it.”

Reporter Paulin’s statement about Shell lobbyists in Juneau is, if anything, understatement.  During the same day Shell CEO Vosser  was delivering his annual report, in Juneau, the oil industry was flexing its muscle as it only can in Alaska.

The 2012 election brought an end to a Senate bipartisan coalition that dated back to shortly after the FBI busted a number of Alaska legislators for taking bribes from the major oil field service company in Alaska, Veco.  Although it was understood at the time that Veco’s bribers were working on behalf of oil giant ConocoPhillips, no employees from the latter were ever indicted by the Justice Department.  The crooked legislators smugly called themselves “The Corrupt Bastards Club,” and even had baseball caps made with the term plastered across them.

Replacing the bipartisan Senate coalition is a new GOP-run super majority that is intent on ramming through Senate Bill 21, which will repeal the most important element of Alaska’s taxation of oil fields here, and strip billions of dollars per year from state coffers and give it to immensely wealthy oil companies, like ConocoPhillips, British Petroleum and Exxon-Mobil.

Tuesday through Thursday, the Senate Special Committee on TAPS [Trans-Alaska Pipeline System] Throughput held telephonic hearings across the state on SB 21.  About 90% of the testimony was in favor of not implementing SB 21, or of even tweaking our tax rate on the oil industry, which is at the bottom of the middle of the pack worldwide.
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After Kulluk Hull Damage Assessment, Shell Mum on Damage Extent – State of Alaska Could Care Less

12:43 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk aground Sitkalidak Island

The oil drilling rig Kulluk, which spectacularly went aground on Sitkalidak Island south of Kodiak late on New Years Eve, was salvaged on January 6th, and towed about 40 miles to Kiliuda Bay, where it has been anchored since. Salvage experts have thoroughly gone over the inside and outside of the rig over the intervening days.

The so-called Unified Command structure, which was enacted before the grounding, and peaked on January 6th at over 700 people, more than half of which were government or Alaska Native corporation employees, is still in place, though much reduced. There are about 250 people involved on Kodiak Island, a smaller team in Anchorage.

However, Shell Alaska appears to be calling the shots at this point, when it comes to letting people know anything about the extent of the damage the ungainly rig sustained during severe storm conditions, and while being knocked about upon a rocky coast for a week:

The operation is under the direction of unified command structure made up of the Shell, the Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the Kodiak Island Borough. The unified command has acknowledged that the vessel remains upright, has not leaked fuel and has been examined by divers, but not much else.

“I know you’re looking for specific answers but we wanted to let you know that due to the fact that multiple entities are involved in the assessment of data, including Unified Command, Shell, Smit Salvage and Det Norske Veritas, Unified Command will not comment on the assessment until the report is finalized,” said spokeswoman Deb Sawyer by email in response to questions about the operation. She did not provide a timetable of when the report would be done.

Meanwhile, after the U.S. Coast Guard, other Federal agencies, the Alaska Department of Conservation, other Alaska state agencies, Native entities and other local governmental functions have spent millions from the public purse, it appears the State of Alaska, perhaps the most oil-friendly state in the country, could care less.

Marine ecosystem and oil spill expert Rick Steiner queried Gary Mendivil, an Environmental Program Specialist with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Office of the Commissioner, about his concerns over the fragility of the damaged rig’s hull:

Under the auspices of the Alaska Public Records Act, I request a copy of all records, whether printed documents, still photographs, and/or video from the underwater ROVs or divers, pertaining to the inspection of the condition of the Kulluk as of this date.

Mendivil’s response was quick and brief:

Our response that no records exist is true for the entire department, including the Commissioner.

Steiner is concerned that the state DEC is a blank slate on this. He should be, as should we all.

He wrote to me earlier Friday:

The rig is anchored in state waters, had been hard aground for a week, has 150,000 gallons of fuel still on board, and has been extensively inspected, and that rests in the Unified Command, which state is part of ….

And this is the state government that asserts it will maintain very stringent oversight of Arctic offshore drilling?

I had a short talk with Alaska Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell early this afternoon, after a presentation we both had attended.  I didn’t push him on the Kulluk grounding, but should have.

I suspect the Unified Command will make an announcement on the hull and inner structure damage to the Kulluk soon.  But, given the millions of dollars, and risks to scores of lives Shell’s hubris and negligence have so far caused because of this ungainly contraption, it should not be allowed to proceed until their assessment has been vetted by the USCG and the Alaska DEC and has been made public.