Oil companies pledge more Alaska hires

Parnell's claim of more Alaska jobs from proposed tax cut disputed in hearings

Oil companies seeking billions in reduced taxes from Alaska defended their local hire efforts at a state Senate hearing in Anchorage Thursday, while at least one promised changes to boost Alaska hire.

The Senate’s Labor & Commerce Committee is holding hearings on Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed oil production tax reductions.

Parnell said that would boost Alaskan employment, but the committee is looking into what chair Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, called “unsettling observations” that recently came to light, that being in 2010 more than half of new oil industry hires came from outside Alaska.

Representatives of ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil defended their local hiring practices and said they already preferred to hire Alaskans.

BP Alaska’s Claire Fitzpatrick said her company did as well, but also promised to do more in the future to boost Alaska hiring.

“We will always hire the best candidate for the job, but our preference is to hire qualified Alaskans,” she said.

She acknowledged some North Slope workers lived out of state and flew in for work. BP encourages local hire by providing transportation from Anchorage or Fairbanks, but not outside Alaska, she said. And non-resident workers are responsible for any flight delays, she said.

Fitzpatrick said most of BP’s employees are Alaskans, but the company is making new efforts to track Alaska hire by its contractors and subcontractors and encourage them to hire more Alaska residents.

BP’s bid packages will start looking beyond just quality, price and safety, she said.

“In the future we will also include also include Alaska hire as one of the specific criteria in awarding contracts,” she said.

Sen. Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks, praised that pledge.

“On the North Slope there have been contractors with very high non-residency rates,” he said.

Fitzpatrick said BP would also break up bundled contracts into smaller chunks so that more companies would be able to bid on them.

Exxon Mobil’s local production manager, Dale Pittman, said his company supported local hire all over the world. At Exxon’s Sakhalin Island facility in Russia, it worked hard to find qualified Russians to work there, he said.

At similar hearing in Fairbanks on Tuesday, local workers criticized what they called “flyover” jobs, Outside workers who fly in for two-week shifts on the North Slope.

A new sleeping facility inside Anchorage International Airport will enable those coming to Alaska for North Slope jobs to never leave the airport or even go outside TSA security.

Thursday Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, who spent the hearing acting as an advocate of the oil industry, challenged the significance of the new pods.

She said she checked with Transportation Commissioner Marc Luiken, and said she needed to clarify the “very dramatic” statements she heard Tuesday from a union representative.

“It’s not targeting North Slope workers, it’s open to anyone who wants to use it,” she said she was told.

AFL-CIO Alaska President Vince Beltrami said that was contradicted by an advertisement for the sleeping pods shown to the committee Tuesday in Fairbanks

“It was offering significant discounts for oil field workers,” he noted.

Giessel said that wasn’t the intent of the commissioner when he approved it.

She then noted oil production in Alaska had dropped from an average of 100 barrels per worker recently to only 50 barrels per worker in 2010.

“We would like your help in getting that production up,” she said.

Giessel and other advocates of cutting oil taxes tried repeatedly to shift the focus of the hearings from Alaska hire to boosting oil production, saying the core issue was really pipeline throughput.

That effort included an email from Parnell to supporters, urging them to attend the hearings and try to get them refocused on the central question of cutting taxes, which he said would boost oil production.

Egan began the hearings by saying they were intended to focus on his committee’s area of responsibility, looking in to Parnell’s claims that the tax cuts he proposed would result in more jobs for Alaskans. However, he gave wide latitude to chamber of commerce representatives and other tax cut proponents.

But Paskvan took issue with the Parnell’s strategy.

“Every worker should feel a little insulted that the governor doesn’t think Alaska hire is a core issue,” he said.

Thursday, Parnell spokeswoman said the governor “remains committed to creating more opportunities for Alaska families by increasing Alaska’s investment climate.”

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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