Northwest Digest

Posted: Monday, September 26, 2005

Usibelli looking into methane gas

FAIRBANKS - The state is considering a proposal by Usibelli Energy Inc. to explore for coal bed methane gas in the Healy basin next to Denali National Park.

Under the proposal, Usibelli would explore 208,630 acres of state-owned land adjacent to the park.

While state geologists believe there's a high potential for shallow methane gas in the coal deposits around the Denali Borough town of Healy, little information exists about the area where Usibelli has proposed looking for gas.

"We know that methane has been produced," said Mitch Usibelli, manager of Usibelli Energy. "It's just a matter of whether it's still present in the coal and if it can be extracted economically."

The company hopes to put together a project that, at the very least, would provide low-cost heat and electricity to its nearby coal mining operations. Under the best-case scenario, the project could supply neighboring communities with energy and provide natural gas to the Fairbanks market through a tie-in with a proposed pipeline to the Nenana basin.

"Our hope is that it's a bigger deal," said Steve Denton, vice president of business development at Usibelli. "But it doesn't have to be to have some potential benefits."

The company is seeking an exploration license, which would provide the company the opportunity to see if development is feasible. The license would require Usibelli to complete $500,000 of exploration work over 10 years.

Officials from the state Division of Oil and Gas are evaluating Usibelli's request to determine if exploration is in the best interest of the state. A final determination on whether to grant the license is expected by January.

Parks proposal ruffles feathers

ANCHORAGE - The chairman of the House Resources committee is proposing to raise money by selling off 15 national parks, including seven in Alaska.

The proposal was in a draft bill circulating in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

Park supporters said they were outraged by Rep. Richard Pombo's proposal.

"Can you believe this Pombo guy?" said Jim Stratton, Alaska director for the National Parks Conservation Association.

Pombo, R-Calif., included the park sell-off in a draft of the budget reconciliation bill, a tool Congress sometimes uses to reach budget goals. As chairman of the resources committee, he was charged with proposing changes to public land laws to raise or save $2.4 billion. As expected, his draft also includes a plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, which is projected to meet Pombo's revenue requirement on its own.

Pombo's spokesman, Brian Kennedy, said the 285-page draft is not to be taken seriously. He said its purpose was to come up with proposals that would raise as much money for the federal government as oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Pombo ardently supports.

The National Parks Conservation Association obtained a leaked copy of the draft.

The 19 million Alaska acres on Pombo's list include:

• Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve

• Bering Land Bridge National Preserve

• Cape Krusenstern National Monument

• Kobuk Valley National Park

• Lake Clark National Park and Preserve

• Noatak National Preserve

• Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve

Storm shrinks to light rain in Nome

NOME - The storm that hammered Nome and other Western Alaska communities had tapered off to a light rain by Saturday, officials said.

Winds had calmed although seas were still choppy, according to the National Weather Service, which called off a coastal flood warning by midmorning Saturday.

The storm arrived Thursday night and continued Friday. Winds reaching 65 mph lashed Nome and sent water flooding into Front Street businesses.

Twelve-foot waves on top of a 10-foot storm surge slammed against the town's seawall, littering Front Street with rocks and debris.

Businesses along the ocean front had to pump water out of their basements.

Black leader: It's time to fight poverty

MOSES LAKE, Wash. - The leader of one of the nation's most prominent civil rights organizations said black Americans must take an active role in fighting the poverty exposed by Hurricane Katrina.

It should not have taken a hurricane to reveal a nation of haves and have-not, said Charles Steele, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He spoke Saturday night to about 120 people gathered here for the Alaska, Oregon and Washington's state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Let's do something about poverty and racism in America, he said. "How many more New Orleans do we have?"

Steele asked: Was it a conspiracy to never fix the New Orleans' levees, knowing the area was prone to hurricanes and flooding? "And now that they have the black folks out, who do you think they are going to let back in?" he continued.

He said white business leaders in the devastated city have already considered gentrification. Black Americans, Steele said, have a responsibility to return and rebuild a city that includes everybody.

Black Americans, he said, will not just "go back to the plantation."

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