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Wielechowski says oil and gas jobs are up, Parnell disagrees

Posted: April 2, 2011 - 10:10pm

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, is defending Alaska’s oil and gas jobs as being on the rise, while the governor states this is not the case.

Wielechowski says those industry jobs are near an all-time high, citing statistics from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development that show oil and gas workforce has a preliminary annual employment average of 12,800 in 2010. This is just under the historical high of 12,900 the previous year, according to that same chart.

That same chart shows the average increasing since 2003, when it was at 8,100. The 2011 oil and gas employment estimates show the 13,000 as the revised number for January and 12,900 for the preliminary February figure.

Wielechowski says these numbers contradict claims by Gov. Sean Parnell that oil and gas industries are down and the state’s future is at risk. He said one of the biggest arguments he’s heard is that jobs dropped significantly lately, but the department’s numbers show differently.

“The governor has heard directly from Alaska employers like Cruz Construction, Doyon, and Lynden Transport who have said they have had to reduce their Alaska workforce and send jobs to more competitive environments. There is absolutely no debate that Alaskan oil production is declining and those jobs are going to go away unless we act to improve our competitiveness by reducing oil taxes,” Parnell’s spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, stated in an e-mail.

“Responsible decisions on Alaska’s future must be based on hard facts, not unsubstantiated claims,” Wielechowski said.

He pointed out further statistics from the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, stating 137 wells were drilled in 2006, 139 in 2008 and 164 in 2010.

He said increases in the industry are very evident in the North Slope, with capital and operating expenditures going from $3.7 billion in fiscal year 2007 to $3.8 billion in fiscal year 2008 to $4.3 billion in fiscal year 2009 and $4.7 billion in fiscal year 2010. He also said it’s clear that employment has increased there over the years.

Furthermore, he states the Department of Revenue forecasts increased expenditures of $5.1 billion in fiscal year 2011 and $5.5 billion in fiscal year 2012, based on information provided by the industry.

“The time for an honest appraisal of the facts is now,” Wielechowski said in a release. “Alaskans are being asked to forgo billions of dollars in revenue each year which otherwise could go to improving education, building needed infrastructure, and saving for less prosperous times. They should not be duped or misled into making a decision of this magnitude.”

Wielechowski said much of the industry’s growth is due to the Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES) oil tax. He has defended ACES, which passed in 2007 under then-Governor Sarah Palin. Parnell has opposed the tax.

Communications Director Beth Leschper of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development said the department only provides the statistics and could not comment on oil and gas employment trends.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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