Several southwest Alaska government officials and representatives from the Alaska fishing industry attended Bodø University’s third annual “dialogue and tour” meeting in the city of Bodø on the northwest coast of Norway in early May.
The Bodø meetings provide an opportunity for dialogue on issues related to Arctic oil and gas development and to discuss stakeholder viewpoints. This year’s meeting included a Norwegian coast cruise, culminating in a visit to StatoilHydro’s new liquefied natural gas production facilities for the Barents Sea Snøhvit field.
According to an Aleutians East Borough newsletter, borough Mayor Stanley Mack and borough Administrator Bob Juettner attended the meeting. Glenn Garner, mayor of Sand Point; Lamar Cotton, chief administrative officer of the Lake and Peninsula Borough; Tiel Smith, land and resource manager for Bristol Bay Native Corp.; and John Goll, Alaska regional director for the U.S. Minerals Management Service also attended, the newsletter said. Alaska fishing industry representatives also attended.
Positive about development“In general, our Norwegian counterparts were positive about offshore development and they didn’t see too many conflicts with the fisheries,” Juettner said in the newsletter. “However, they did want more local input included in the process.”
Garner told Petroleum News June 4 that he found the Norwegian oil industry to be particularly advanced in the way in which it addresses offshore development issues. Garner particularly cited Snøhvit field where there are no offshore platforms. Fishing takes place in the Snøhvit area and cages cover the seafloor well heads, he said.
Garner also commented on the effectiveness of the road network that connects even the remote parts of Norway. That contrasts with the difficulty experienced in moving forward with road construction in Alaska in places like King Cove, he said.
From the perspective of potential oil and gas development in the Bristol Bay area of Alaska, Garner sees the Norwegian experience as highlighting the need for engagement of all stakeholders in the dialogue regarding development decisions.
“You’ve got to pull everyone into the fold … and I think it’s doable,” Garner said. “… I think if people saw what we’ve seen they’d be comfortable with going forward.”
Childers: challenges in AlaskaJoe Childers, president of the United Fishermen of Alaska, also attended the meeting and told Petroleum News June 5 that the apparent desire for discourse between the oil and fishing industries in Norway had particularly caught his attention.
“There’s a lot of challenge to do that in Alaska,” he said.
Norway has a large population and a long tradition of involvement in fishing — an interface with a Norwegian community becomes in effect an interface with the fishing industry, he said. In Alaska, on the other hand, few people are conscious of the huge Bering Sea pollock fishery and would see a Bering Sea oil and gas industry as “out of sight, out of mind.”
“There’s fishing going on that most people in Alaska are not even aware of,” Childers said.
The Bering Sea region of Alaska bears similarities with Norway in that the region hosts a rich fishery, Childers said. But the Bering Sea region is sparsely populated and much of the fishing occurs offshore in large boats. And the Alaska fishing industry is still living in the shadow of the Exxon Valdez disaster. Someone involved in a major Bering Sea fishing operation may have difficulty in seeing any benefit from the oil and gas industry.
“That’s a hill that has to be overcome,” Childers said. “… There may be an opportunity to have a meaningful, respectful dialogue with the oil industry.”
And it would be helpful if more people in the fishing community saw what is happening in the oil and gas industry — many people view oil and gas as a short-term phenomenon rather than offering long-term career opportunities, Childers said.
Like Garner, Childers was very impressed by the offshore technology used in the Norwegian oil and gas industry. But the oil and gas industry needs to spend time getting to know the Bering Sea fisheries, to understand the industry that it plans to coexist with, he said. Perhaps oil and gas personnel should try going out on a Bering Sea fishing boat, Childers said.