January 17, 2003 --- Vol. 9, No. 5January 2003

Tom Irwin taped as DNR commissioner

Gov. Frank Murkowski today announced the appointment of Tom Irwin as commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources. Irwin has 30 years experience in the natural resource industry, evaluating, designing, permitting and operating mining and milling properties, the governor's office said.

"Tom Irwin has the knowledge and the experience and the management abilities to bring DNR into the 21st century, and truly make it the engine of Alaska's economy that it should be," Murkowski said. "We will have a greater emphasis on mining in Alaska, which is his long suit. Tom Irwin's skills will allow him to focus on our oil and gas sector to increase the contribution of this substantial base of our economy."

Irwin, 56, holds a bachelors of science degree in mineral engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. Before moving to Alaska in 1992, he was general manager of Amax Gold's Sleeper mine in Nevada. From 1992-96, he was vice president of operations for Fairbanks Gold Mining Inc., and was directly involved with design, permitting, and start-up of the Fort Knox mine. Between 1996-2001, he was operations manager and general manager of Fort Knox and True North mines. Most recently, Irwin was vice president of business development for Fairbanks Gold.

AOGCC will issue rule on annular pressure management at Prudhoe Bay

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said Jan. 16 that it has decided that a rule addressing annual pressure management in Prudhoe Bay field development wells is appropriate to protect worker safety. The commission said it will issue a proposed rule for public comment after it has received and reviewed information from Prudhoe Bay field operator BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., including results of a hazard study of wells at Prudhoe that "exhibit pressure communications or leakage in any tubing or packer or casing" and a proposal for an annular pressure management program for all Prudhoe Bay development wells.

Until the commission issues a rule on annular pressure management, it is requiring BP to comply with annulus pressure management programs in the company's well integrity waiver policy; the company's well startup procedures as described to the commission in its Nov. 14 hearing; a commission letter dated Oct. 29 from Cammy Taylor, commission chair; and any modifications or updates of those approved by the commission.

The November hearing was the result of an Aug. 16 explosion at a Prudhoe Bay well which severely injured a worker. Both BP and the Alaska Oil and Gas Association told the commission at the hearing that no new regulations are needed. BP said that it has made changes in its operating procedures and training following the explosion.

BLM issues draft plan for northwest NPR-A

The Bureau of Land Management has issued a draft Northwest National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska integrated activity plan and environmental impact statement. BLM said it has analyzed four possible management alternatives for the 8.8 million acres of public lands in the northwest portion of NPR-A.

BLM Alaska State Director Henri Bisson said in a statement that the agency is addressing three major issues: what lands should BLM offer for oil and gas leasing? What measures should be developed to protect surface resources? And what non-oil and gas land allocations should be considered for this portion of the NPR-A?

Bisson said BLM does not have a preferred alternative. Public comments will be accepted through March 18.

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