Alaska Digest

Posted: Thursday, March 25, 2004

N. Slope Borough quits gas line port authority

FAIRBANKS - The North Slope Borough said it is pulling out of a group of local governments hoping to build a gas line to transport North Slope natural gas to market.

Borough officials said Tuesday competing interests were behind its withdrawal from the Alaska Gasline Port Authority, one of three entities that has applied to the state to build a gas line through the Stranded Gas Development Act.

The Stranded Gas Act says the state may use independent contractors to assist in evaluating fiscal contract applications for payments in lieu of state and municipal taxes on a natural gas project.

The authority also includes the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the city of Valdez. Voters in all three communities approved the port authority to construct a gas line in 1999.

The North Slope Borough announced that it no longer wants to be part of the effort because of its involvement with the two applications submitted to the state prior to the port authority's application.

One of the applications came from MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, and a consortium of Native corporations, including the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. The North Slope Borough is located in the regional corporation's area and the port authority's application represents direct competition, said North Slope Borough Mayor George Ahmaogak.

"It doesn't make sense for the borough to compete with ASRC over a gas line project," Ahmaogak said.

Unocal working quickly to produce gas

KENAI - Unocal is working quickly to produce gas discovered at test wells in Ninilchik and bring it to market on the Kenai Peninsula by the end of the year.

The company also is drilling four or five more test sites at the Happy Valley project site in a rush to develop successful wells to meet the gas needs of the peninsula.

Unocal, which owns a partial share in the Falls Creek well in the Ninilchik unit, began exploring further gas development in the region in 2002.

"Unocal tried to take it to the next step, drilling exploratory wells, but failed completely," said Ed Turner, gas development manager for the Happy Valley project. "It's a risky business."

Turner recently spoke to a small crowd at the Kenai Peninsula Chapter of The Alliance to update residents on progress at the company's newest natural gas project.

Turner said the company spent about $10 million on the failed wells but kept trying and eventually discovered gas at an exploratory well last year. The discovery was confirmed by a find at a second exploratory well. Unocal then drilled more test sites.

The need for traditional fuel sources such as coal, oil and gas is expected to increase 40 percent nationwide over the next 20 years, Turner said. Local needs will be less dramatic but will still exist, he said.

Current research, however, indicates that local oil and gas companies will lose 30 percent of their ability to meet the need in the next four years alone, Turner said.

New Democratic coalition forms

BOISE, Idaho - Democrats in nine Western states including Alaska are forming a new coalition aimed at rebuilding their party in a region where Republicans have dominated for nearly two decades.

High-profile leaders on the committee include former Interior Secretary and Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, former Montana Rep. Pat Williams, former New Mexico Sen. Dennis DeConcini and former Interior Secretary and Arizona Rep. Stewart Udall.

The nine states represented in the effort are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Andrus said Western Democrats are tired of being painted by Republicans with the same brush as Eastern and urban environmentalists.

"I had a balanced approach. I had credibility on the environment and we still had an adequate timber harvest," Andrus said. "I'm not going to let them drive the train anymore. They have no right to stereotype us."

While coastal states such as California, Oregon and Washington have remained politically balanced over the past 20 or so years, Democrats in interior Western states have lost ground to Republicans.

Republican National Committee Western region spokesman Yier Schi said that despite the attempts of past Democratic officeholders to pay homage to regional issues, the party is still represented by its leaders, including presidential candidate John Kerry.

"The Democratic Party has nominated a candidate that is wrong for Western issues," Schi said.

Oregon condor egg shows signs of life

PORTLAND, Ore. - A California condor egg laid in Oregon appears to be fertile, according to curators at the Oregon Zoo.

Researchers examining the egg, laid two weeks ago, have spied blood vessels beneath the shell, definite signs of life.

If all goes well, and a chick hatches the first week of May, it would be the 12th offspring for Tama-Yawut and her mate, Mandan.

The rough-shelled, aqua-colored egg is about 4 1/2 inches long; last week, it weighed about 10 ounces.

Keepers will incubate it artificially and hope that Tama lays another egg, a method designed to boost the endangered condor population more rapidly.

California condors once were native to the Northwest, but the last sighting experts consider reliable occurred 100 years ago near Drain, in southwest Oregon.

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