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Vol. 19, No. 6 Week of February 09, 2014
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Focus on the Arctic

State commission releases its draft policy in parallel with federal plan

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

On Feb. 3 the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission presented its draft report to the state Legislature, setting out proposals for the state’s vision for the future of its Arctic territory and making recommendations for how to achieve that vision. Issue of the report synchronized with the publication by the Obama administration of an implementation plan for the U.S. national Arctic strategy that the administration published in May 2013.

Concerned that the state should take a leadership role in a continuing national and international Arctic dialogue, as the Arctic evolves under the impact of the changing climate, during the 2012 legislative session the Alaska Legislature established the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission to formulate a state policy and implementation strategy. The commission, chaired by Sen. Lesil McGuire and Rep. Bob Herron, consists of 10 members of the Legislature and 16 people from a variety of backgrounds, including the state administration, the federal government, rural communities; the fishing, oil, mining and shipping industries; academia and conservation groups.

Draft report

The commission had a mandate to deliver a draft report by Jan. 30, 2014, and to complete a final draft of the document and an implementation plan by Jan. 30, 2015. The report that has now been published represents the first step of that mandate.

“2014 is the Year of the Arctic for the Alaska Legislature. There is a need to make sure Alaska is in the captain’s seat as Arctic decisions are made that will affect all Alaskans today and for hundreds of years,” said McGuire when announcing publication of the draft report. “Planting a flag in the Arctic is like planting a flag on the moon. It is an important symbolic message telling us to push boundaries and move with purpose toward Arctic endeavors. This report is a great step in that direction.”

Vision statements

The Arctic Policy Commission’s report sets out four primary vision statements: valuing community sustainability and thriving cultures; advancing economic development and a healthy environment; ensuring public safety and security; and incorporating transparency and inclusion into decision making.

In developing its draft policy the commission held public meetings in a number of communities — McGuire and Herron told a Feb. 4 joint meeting of the House and Senate State Affairs committees that they anticipate continuing this process in the coming year, sending out teams to glean input from all Alaskans. The commission will need to hold a public hearing in Anchorage, the state’s main population center, McGuire said.

Strategic recommendations

The commission’s draft report makes a series of strategic recommendations, grouping these recommendations into nine areas: governance and indigenous perspectives; science and research; planning and infrastructure; oil, gas and mineral resources; security and defense; marine transportation; response for search and rescue, and for oil pollution; energy and power; and fisheries and wildlife. The commission has addressed all of these areas except security and defense, an area that the report says warrants more attention than the commission has been able to give to it so far.

Recommendations under the heading of governance and indigenous perspectives include the expansion of Alaska participation in the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum consisting of the eight Arctic nations and six groups representing Arctic indigenous people. The commission also recommends the continuing development of programs that ensure local community involvement in state and federal decision making, including the coordination of permits and plans.

In terms of science and research, there needs to be increased funding for Arctic research in the University of Alaska, the report says. And state agencies should form agreements with local governments for the use of traditional knowledge and culturally sensitive practices in research and permitting programs.

Arctic development requires a comprehensive Alaska region economic and infrastructure assessment, integrating local, regional, state and federal planning efforts, the report says. And the state needs to encourage the formation of an inter-agency and inter-governmental working group to implement a mechanism for prioritizing and funding infrastructure construction and economic development.

Resource development

The development of Arctic natural resources requires regional planning, allowing local stakeholders to communicate their priorities to state and federal agencies. And it is necessary to develop a mechanism for sharing revenue from resource extraction with impacted communities. Other resource development recommendations include the continued promotion of oil, gas and mineral exploration and development onshore and offshore in a manner that is safe; respects people and the environment; and meets the economic needs of the state, local communities and industry.

During seven hours of testimony on the North Slope the commission heard an almost unanimous view that the Chukchi and Beaufort seas constitute the “garden” of the Arctic communities, and that the state and federal governments should focus on oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before conducting offshore development, Herron told the joint State Affairs Committee meeting.

Marine transportation requires the development of integrated systems for monitoring and communicating Arctic marine information.

Emergency and spill response

There needs to be public and private investment to support critical aviation and maritime response infrastructure, coupled with more adequate funding to enable the U.S. Coast Guard to carry out its emergency response duties in the Arctic, the report says. The efforts of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to involve local communities in oil spill response planning and in the maintenance of oil spill response equipment need to be expanded. And there should be support for the department’s communication with the Coast Guard in reviewing emergency response compliance programs appropriate to the Arctic.

The state needs stable, long-term funding mechanisms for weatherization and energy efficiency programs for Arctic buildings, while also continuing to seek long-term solutions to the issue of the high cost of energy for Arctic communities.

There also needs to be an assessment and monitoring program to support strategies for fish and wildlife management, to improve food security for Alaska residents. New and improved public education and awareness programs would result in a better public understanding of the programs and policies for the conservation of Arctic biodiversity and resource sustainability, the report says.

In support of the draft policy McGuire has introduced legislation to create an Arctic port authority to oversee the siting of Arctic ports and she has also introduced resolutions that would ask the U.S. Department of State to consider Alaska priorities, when the United States takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015. The resolutions also request consultation with Alaska officials over the appointment of the person who will chair the council. The chairmanship of the council revolves between the member nations, with the United States being the next nation in line to take on the chairmanship role.

With funding being a significant concern in implementing initiatives identified as part of the policy, McGuire and Herron have also introduced legislation that would allow the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to finance up to one-third of project costs.

Part two of this two part series in next week’s Petroleum News will describe the Obama administration’s implementation plan for the national strategy for the Arctic region.

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State and feds liaise over Arctic strategies

When rolling out its draft report, setting out a vision for the future of Alaska’s Arctic lands, members of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission commented on the high level of cooperation between the commission and a federal task force working on an implementation plan for the Obama administration’s national Arctic strategy. The state, concerned to ensure that it has a voice in the future of the Arctic, is developing its own Arctic policies in parallel with the federal government’s efforts to set a strategy for federal agency Arctic actions.

The Alaska commission co-chairs, Sen. Lesil McGuire and Rep. Bob Herron, have both expressed their satisfaction with the level of cooperation achieved between the commission and the federal task force. McGuire and Herron said that they have met regularly with task force leaders. During a Feb. 3 media briefing Rep. Herron said that the federal task force had modified its plan to accommodate Alaska concerns and, as a consequence, had delayed completion of its work.

“It’s my first experience in 13 years … with success, having Alaskan voices come in and really be heard. And you can actually see results,” McGuire said. “They integrated our comments meaningfully into their strategic plan.”

—Alan Bailey