The company caught many by surprise when it snatched up 500,000 acres in a 2010 lease sale.
But two years after executives told lawmakers the company could pump one million barrels into TAPS a day, it isn’t even close to serious production.
Former Alaska revenue commissioner Patrick Galvin, now deputy general counsel at the company, said Great Bear is analyzing geological data from wells drilled last year.
“We’ve got a lot of information that we’ve obtained from those first two wells and the seismic data, and we’re still in the process of evaluating that,” he said Tuesday evening.
That’s taking place in the San Francisco Bay Area. Galvin would not say how many wells he hopes the company will frack, or whether initial projections were too high.
“We’ve got a lot of acreage and a lot of determinations to make as to what a full field development would look like,” he said.
Great Bear plans on cracking the source rock on the North Slope with a mix of chemicals to release oil. About a quarter of the wells in the state have been hydraulically fractured.
Unlike the Marcellus Shale in the Eastern U.S. – these wells would primarily harvest oil, not gas.
And unlike the Lower 48, some environmental groups are welcoming the possibilities. The water table near the proposed well sites is filled with brackish water, so it couldn’t be consumed by humans.
Lois Epstein, an engineer who works with the Wilderness Society, said the conservation community could get behind this proposal; in part because the operations will be on state land, land she said is less sensitive than federally protected acres.
And as an Alaskan, it’s good to see more oil in the pipeline.
“It could be a good thing for the state of Alaska to increase flows through the Trans Alaska Pipeline by tapping into resources near the existing infrastructure,” Epstein said.
The company’s two existing wells are near the Dalton Highway.
“They’ve chosen it for more than just the geology,” said Cathy Foerster, chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. “They’ve chosen it because it’s got some ‘close-ology’ – it’s close to existing infrastructure.”
Foerster said in the past companies have started near existing gravel roads and infrastructure and then moved further away as production scaled up.
“Unless you’re going to find another Prudhoe Bay, you can’t afford to build your own infrastructure. You need to rely on what’s already in place,” she said.
The company has not applied for any permits beyond the ones it has for six well sites along the Dalton Highway.
Foerster said she remains optimistic the project will still pan out even though the state is considering new regulations on fracking. A public comment period on proposed rule changes – like requiring producers to disclose fluids online – just ended.
“We’re not proposing anything that’s out of line with other states that are doing hydraulic fracturing of shale,” she said.
Great Bear’s Pat Galvin said he too remains optimistic about the prospect. But the project appears to be taking longer than expected.
The company’s founder Ed Duncan told legislators two years ago that he’d be pumping oil into TAPS by last summer.
Pavlof Volcano put on a light show for residents of several communities on the Alaska Peninsula Tuesday night. Activity at the volcano has increased, and it’s spewing ash up to 20,000 feet.
Cold Bay resident Molly Watson was watching Pavlof for signs of activity from her kitchen window on Tuesday evening.
“And I’d kind of given up, thinking ‘ehn, we’re not going to see anything else, just smoke.’ As soon as I mentally thought that, and I was actually writing it to a friend — I was emailing — and sure enough, I saw this spark, and I was like ‘what is that?!’”
Watson says at first it just looked like a faint glow on the side of the mountain, but that it got clearer over time.
“As it got darker you could really see it shooting up and out — and then you could see the lava flow going down the side of the mountain.”
Pavlof was also shooting up ash clouds — some of them rising up to 20,000 feet. Alaska Volcano Observatory scientist-in-charge John Power:
“Most of the plumes that we’ve been seeing are more in the 15,000 foot range, and seem to be falling out of the atmosphere quite quickly. So, so far there hasn’t been any widespread ashfall from this, and it certainly has not gotten up high enough to affect international air travel.”
Nevertheless, an advisory has been issued for all flights in the area, and Power says the Observatory will be monitoring for ash clouds reaching 30,000 feet or above. He adds that other agencies are keeping a close eye on air quality in local communities.
“There is some concern for ash fallout, although in the 2007 eruption, it didn’t pose much of problem for those communities, and we’ll be hopeful that that’s the case this time.”
So long as it is, Cold Bay and Sand Point residents can rest easy, and continue to enjoy the light show.
The recent detection of two cases of rabies in wolves trapped south of the Brooks Range has prompted concern about whether the deadly disease has re-emerged in the interior. Many pet owners in Fairbanks are getting their animals vaccinated as a precaution.
Say so long to summer drivers riding the ferry for free.
Wave goodbye to the winter roundtrip discount.
And printed schedules? Those are on their way out too.
They won’t happen for a while. But the changes are some of the ways the Alaska Marine Highway will address a $3.5-million spending cut mandated by the Legislature.
Ferry Business Enterprise Director Dick Leary described the cuts at Tuesday’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board meeting.
He said managers won’t cut sailings where tickets have already been sold. That means no reductions to the summer schedule that runs through September.
“We also feel very strongly that the winter schedule as it now exists is a bare-bottom service level and so if possible, we don’t want to cut any of the winter schedule,” Leary said. “And that takes us from October first to April 30th. So, of course, you put one and two together and you’ve only got May and June left.”
Managers also agreed that none of the system’s 35 port communities should lose service for an extended amount of time.
But there will be some cuts.
The Taku will not operate on its Prince Rupert-to-Juneau run in June of 2014. That reduces sailings to Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Kake and Sitka. Another ship, the Malaspina, will continue to offer that service.
The Juneau-based fast ferry Fairweather will sail less often during the first two weeks of next May. That affects Sitka and Lynn Canal routes.
Advisory board member Gerry Hope of Sitka said that hurts his hometown.
“It seems like we’re a frequent visitor to your cut-budget system. I want to support you; I want to back you up. But it feels at this point that I can’t get fully on board, no pun intended,” Hope said.
Business Director Leary said other cuts were chosen to avoid further service reductions. The roundtrip discounts will go away this fall. The drivers-ride-free program will end at the same time.
Board Chairman Robert Venables said the marine highway should prepare for further reductions.
“It was obvious that the Legislature’s squeezing all areas of the state budget and that’s going to be a trend that’s going to continue for the foreseeable future. This year’s cuts were probably more of a nick than an amputation,” Venables said.
Officials said they would consider raising ticket prices and retiring ferries if further cuts come in future years.
Atka is home to just 71 people. But that’s about to change. The city’s processing plant wants to quadruple its workforce — and with that, the community is ramping up a campaign to replace its dilapidated clinic.
When patients step over the threshold into Atka’s health clinic, they’re taking a bit of a risk.
Millie Prokopeuff: “Because our floor is rotting right now. We had to put a board over it to keep it safe because it was so soft, so that we didn’t lose any patients or anybody coming in.”
That’s Millie Prokopeuff. She’s the village’s wellness advocate, and the clinic’s only permanent employee.
The 33-year-old building houses the clinic on the first floor, and Atka’s city hall on the second floor.
Prokopeuff: “And it’s so old, and the nails are starting to pull out themselves just from the wind and the building swaying back and forth.”
In addition to the structural decay, Prokopeuff says it’s also becoming clear that the clinic isn’t big enough to serve the community anymore.
Prokopeuff: “We have no space. Like if we ever had an emergency of six or more, there would be no – it would be really hard. Because there’s no rooms, no beddings, nothing.”
Atka didn’t used to have a reason to plan for an emergency like that – one that would send six people to the clinic in a single day. But it’s not so far-fetched.
At a ceremony last week, celebrating the completion of some big infrastructure projects in Atka, representatives from the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association, or APICDA, gave more details on a plan to triple production capacity at their fish plant.
Atka Pride Seafoods only employs about 15 processors now. But APICDA’s chief operating officer John Sevier told villagers that that’s about to change.
Sevier: “Our plans over the next few years is to put a 65 person bunkhouse here. That will probably be within the next year.”
In one fell swoop, Atka’s population will nearly double — from 71 villagers, to about 140 residents and workers. That’s added incentive to get a new medical facility built, and fast.
City administrator Julie Dirks says now that the village finished its 17-year-long project to build a hydroelectric power plant, she’s zeroing in on the clinic.
The Aleutian Pribilof Island Association is getting involved, and they’re lobbying Congress for funding on Atka’s behalf. But with the federal budget being stretched so thin already, Dirks says she isn’t holding her breath.
Dirks: “[I'm] not gonna sit and wait for them to do it. I’ll still be doing my bit.”
Her bit is lobbying the state. Atka requested $500,000 in capital funding from the state during this legislative session to finish off the design plans and lay the groundwork for even more fundraising. That request was denied – and Dirks says it wasn’t the first time.
Dirks: “I put it in there every year. It’s our number one priority in this village here.”
Dirks says the design is 95 percent complete, and it’s pretty straightforward. It gives the clinic more space to examine patients, a dedicated morgue, and moves the city hall entrance away from the clinic’s front door.
The estimated price tag is more than $3 million, and rising. That’s more than Atka’s annual budget. And while Atkans are used to pursuing expensive projects on a long timeline, with the clinic floor about to give way, they may not be able to wait.
State wildlife officials have closed a subsistence musk ox hunt near Kotzebue because of evidence of wanton waste of the animals. Area biologists say five cow musk oxen from the Cape Thompson herd were killed sometime during January or February of this year.
According to Jim Dau a biologist with the state office in Kotzebue, wildlife officials were tipped off to the killings when two musk oxen bodies were spotted by census takers last month.
On further investigation, Wildlife Troopers found 5 more cow moose bodies that had apparently been shot, and left unsalvaged.
Dau says the illegal harvests exceeded the harvest quota for the unit. The hunt was scheduled to open July 1. The closure does not affect a similar musk ox hunt on the Seward Peninsula.
State officials are keeping an eye on anticipated flood conditions in the Interior of the state, but in the Matanuska Susitna Borough flooding is already starting. Borough officials say the ground is saturated with rain from last fall’s heavy storms, and that, coupled with the lack of snow this winter is causing conditions that give melting ice runoff nowhere to go.
A Petersburg fisherman has recovered more than half of the hand-carved cedar paddles that were lost by the One People Canoe Society late last month.
There are not great numbers of female rappers and Alaska Native female rappers probably number in the single digits. But one such artist is finding great success in the state and around the world as a woman with a passion for raising awareness of the struggles of Native people.
A firearm found Tuesday in a Valdez school forced every school in the Valdez City School District on lock down. The Valdez Police Department is investigating as to how the weapon ended up in the school.
Students from Gilson Middle School boarded buses after they spent part of their Tuesday afternoon on lockdown. Around 2 p.m., a loaded handgun was found in the school forcing the Valdez City School District to take immediate action.
“Valdez High School and Herman Hutchins Elementary also initiated lockdown protocol right away. The Valdez Police Department was notified immediately. Students were safe at all times. All students were dismissed by classroom and safely accompanied outside of the building,” Gilson Middle School Principal Rod Morrison said.
Morrison said the students were dismissed at their normal times, but the buses were delayed for about 15 minutes.
Valdez Police Chief Bill Comer said the District followed the right protocol in handling the situation.
“We sent officers to all the schools just to make sure that everything was safe until we could understand what was going on and the nature and the scope of how the firearm got there. We’re working on that, we don’t have any answers right now and we’ll let you know when we can,” Comer said.
Officers spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the night searching for more weapons. For now, the police aren’t releasing the description of the firearm or where it was found. So far, there is no indication as to why a weapon was brought to the school. Comer said despite the incident, no one is at risk.
We’ll likely have an officer around, but the teachers and the school administration is the best read for us on what’s going on, and there’s really been no sign of any kind of aggressive behavior or any kind of threats to the school. So there’s really – outside of just finding this firearm in the school – there’s nothing to indicate that the school would be unsafe,” Comer said.
Students are scheduled to resume classes at normal times.
The salmon fleet is getting ready to go fishing on Thursday morning on the Copper River Delta.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, this year’s harvest projection for Copper River sockeyes is 1.3 million. Fish and Game Gillnet Area Management Biologist Jeremy Botz says the numbers are about the same as last year
“I think last year was about 1.2 [million], so it’s right in there,” Botz said. “The previous year it was a little lower, but then it came in over forecast.”
Two million sockeyes were tallied from last year’s run. While sockeyes appear to be strong this year, kings are expected to be low for the second straight year.
Fish and Game is projecting a harvest of 14,000. The total harvest for 2012 was 12,000, well short of the 20,000 harvest projection.
Last year, low king runs force emergency closures across the state. Botz says despite the low run, the escapement goal for kings was still achieved.
“We’ve been making that goal for the last few years, but it seems, generally speaking, other King Salmon runs are down around the state and they have been for the last few years and it seems like the Copper River salmon runs have also been quite a bit smaller than they have been historically,” Botz said.
The Copper River commercial salmon season is slated to begin at 7 a.m. Thursday for a 12-hour period.
Scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory were able to get clear views of two restless volcanoes today. The images show that both Cleveland Volcano in the Aleutian Islands and Pavlof Volcano on the Alaska Peninsula are oozing lava.
Cleveland started erupting earlier this month, with six separate explosions sending up multiple ash clouds. The volcano has been quiet since early last week, but the new satellite imagery shows a lava flow coming out of the southeastern side of the crater. The flow is about 100 yards wide, and a mile long.
Scientists at the Observatory first detected activity at Mount Pavlof Monday morning, but weren’t able to visually confirm an eruption. Monday night, a passing PenAir pilot took a photo that shows a fresh, quarter-mile-long lava flow on the volcano’s northern flank, and steam emanating from the summit.
While the aviation alert level for both volcanoes remains at orange, neither has interfered with air traffic. Only Pavlof has a real-time monitoring network, while Cleveland is monitored remotely, using infrasound sensors and satellites.
Doctors deal with death all the time. But they still struggle to tell a patient they’re dying or help them live with a terminal disease. A specialty called Palliative Care is trying to change that. It’s been around since the 1990s. But a lot of people, even in the medical profession, still don’t know it exists.
Dr. Linda Smith walks into a room at Providence hospital ready with a stethoscope and a huge grin. She teases that Dawn Dillard’s spiky hair recently resembled a faux hawk.
Dillard found out she had uterine cancer a year ago, on her birthday. By the time she got the diagnosis, the cancer had spread to her liver and lymph nodes. Her oncologist gave her a year to live. The 57 year old beat those odds. But now her kidneys are failing. After the laughs are over, Smith sits down on the edge of Dillard’s bed, leans in, and starts talking about a procedure Dillard will have.
Smith is a palliative care doctor, a specialty that is growing rapidly in the U.S. The idea is to help patients cope with a terminal or life altering illness. And unlike hospice care, it is not offered only in the final months of life. Smith works on pain management, coordinating care and even does some counseling. Her goal is to improve her patients’ quality of life. She calls it “whole person care.” Dillard thinks that’s accurate:
“I can’t even say how much she’s helped me. Just little things. You know, showing me things like breathing techniques. Sort of like mediation, just ways to focus on things that are positive and happy rather than focusing on your sickness and how crappy you feel.”
Two years ago, Linda Smith was a very different kind of doctor. She worked in the Emergency Room, where the goal was to quickly stabilize a patient and move on. But two decades into her career, she started to question how she was caring for patients at the very end of their lives. She remembers putting patients on breathing tubes, and hearing family members say things like, ‘I know dad didn’t want this, but we’re just not ready to let him go.’
“I started to have a lot of regret about doing things to people that were painful and uncomfortable and were prolonging their suffering. And if I only had the time to sit down with the family, I probably wouldn’t be doing these things.”
Reporter: And did you know about palliative care?
Smith: “I’m laughing. The answer is no. I didn’t know. And in fact when I started looking into palliative care, I got online… and low and behold I saw that we had a palliative program here at the hospital I was working at.”
In the summer of 2011, Smith enrolled in a one year palliative care fellowship at Providence. It wasn’t easy at first. She wanted to roll up her sleeves and start helping right away. Her mentor, Dr. Steven Rust wanted her to wait. He remembers it this way:
“When she started, she would literally say to me, and she’s the only person that calls me this, she’d say, Boss? Put me in the game. And gently I hope, I just said, ‘let’s wait a little bit longer.’”
Smith had a lot to learn. She was a bad listener. And she was busy. As an ER doctor, sometimes she didn’t even sit down to deliver devastating news:
“I can remember saying to families things like, ‘I’m sorry there’s nothing more I can do.’ And I realize now that sounds like abandonment to many people when you say you can’t do anything more. And the reality is I may not be able to do anything more to the patient that will make them survive, but there’s a lot more that I can do. I always can do more.”
A lot of what Smith does is talk to people. She doesn’t advocate for or against treatment, but she wants patients and their families to understand their decisions. If a doctor puts in a breathing tube, for example, that may extend a patient’s life, but they won’t be able to eat or talk. If they die with a tube in, the family will miss hearing their last words. So now Smith sits down for hard conversations and looks patients and their family members right in the eye. Earlier this year, she was called in to consult with the wife of a patient who was dying:
“When I entered the room, the wife said to me, ‘I know who you are.’ And I said, ‘oh. ok’And she said, ‘I don’t want to talk with you and I don’t want to like you because you’re here to talk about death and dying aren’t you?’”
Smith had a short conversation with the woman, and left her a book on difficult end of life choices. She went back to visit her the next day:
“And she said, ‘you know, I so tried not to like you. And what you had to say. And I really realize that we need to have this discussion now, don’t we?’ And I said, ‘when you’re ready, we’re ready to have that discussion.’ and she said, ‘I’m ready now.’”
Smith was planning to return to the Emergency Room. But interactions like that one persuaded her to stay in palliative care. Now she works more and makes less money. Some days, she wonders if she’s crazy. But then she gets to visit a patient like Dawn Dillard. Back in her hospital room, Dillard asks Smith if she really needs to have yet another procedure.
Smith gives Dillard a hug and plants herself at an empty desk at the nurses’ station outside her room. She calls Dillard’s other doctors and realizes the second procedure isn’t really necessary after all. So instead of staying another night in the hospital, Dillard and her husband are back home by the end of the day.
This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
The U.S. Senate is expected to a pass a sweeping bill authorizing dozens of water projects on Wednesday.
A provision is included that Alaska’s senators say could ease the way to an Arctic port.
When voters head to the polls next year, they could be faced with questions on oil taxes, the minimum wage, and the use of recreational marijuana. But one thing that won’t be on the ballot is a referendum on a controversial bill concerning cruise ship waste. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez explains why.
Now that it’s summer, cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers loom over Juneau’s waterfront. Just a few months before, the showers, the sinks, and yes, the toilets aboard these massive vessels were a top concern for lawmakers. They passed a bill rolling back parts of a citizen’s initiative governing wastewater standards.
But not everyone was happy with that legislation.
“We were surprised, shocked, disappointed, and we felt betrayed by the whole thing.”
That’s Chip Thoma. He’s the president of Responsible Cruising for Alaska, and he was one of the lead organizers of the cruise ship initiative that passed in 2006.
On top of implementing a head tax, the citizens’ initiative also required cruise ships to meet wastewater standards at the point of discharge. Basically, any water they released had to be fully treated. That portion was struck down by the legislature in February, with the cruise industry arguing that those standards were impossible to meet.
Thoma thinks that change ignored the will of voters. Even so, he doesn’t plan on taking the issue back to the ballot box. He says his group ultimately chose not to go ahead with a referendum repealing the wastewater discharge bill.
“We decided it’d be extremely expensive, extremely hard to gather the signatures in 90 days for our initiative.”
By his estimate, a campaign would have cost his group at least half a million dollars. Thoma says they would have needed to launch a huge voter education effort, especially since there are so many other issues that could also be on the ballot.
“It’s a lot simpler if people know that it’s a ‘giveaway’ of oil and there should be recreational use of marijuana — things like that. Those are clear-cut issues. This one on rolling back the water standards or making them comply with the copper standards, it’s just a little too complex for most people to address.”
Thoma says that his group is now focusing its attention on a lawsuit concerning the enforcement of an emissions control area off Alaska, which would require vessels to use more expensive low-sulfur fuel. The State of Alaska filed the lawsuit against the federal government last year, on the grounds that “there is no environmental justification” for the area and that such policy requires congressional approval.
As far as how the wastewater discharge bill has been implemented, not much has changed so far.
“This season, the cruise ships are operating under exactly the same permit they’ve been operating under since 2010,” says Michelle Bonnet Hale, who directs the water division at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. “So, the only difference this season is that we were able to extend that permit.”
If the wastewater discharge bill hadn’t passed, cruise ships would have needed to renew their permit if they wanted to release waste in Alaska waters. The permit would have essentially been issued under the same legal framework, but there would have been a public comment period, and there’s the possibility that cruise ships would have seen the permit tweaked.
Hale says that the major effects of the legislation will be seen over the next couple of years, as her division considers authorizing “mixing zones,” where waste from cruise ships would be diluted. DEC is currently examining the impact such mixing zones would have on water quality and fish habitat.
Kali, the orphaned male polar bear cub that has been kept at Anchorage’s Alaska Zoo, spent Tuesday afternoon waiting patiently in his carrier for boarding on a UPS cargo jet bound for the East Coast. Kali is heading to his new permanent home at New York’s Buffalo Zoo.
A herd of musk oxen was seen on the frozen Kuskokwim River recently. It’s a sign that the population is expanding in the region.
Two Bering Sea groundfish catcher-processor vessels have been accused of tampering with the scales used to weigh their harvest. As KUCB’s Stephanie Joyce reports, the alleged violations carry hefty penalties for the vessels’ parent company, American Seafoods.
As federal agencies are beginning to furlough employees because of sequestration, the long-term unemployed in Alaska are about to see a reduction in their unemployment benefits.
Some invasive species of bark beetles, if they make it to Alaska, could pose a serious threat to our trees and forests. In ten years of surveys, none have been detected, but state and federal forestry officials are coming to rely on volunteers to help monitor for them across the state. KDLG’s Dave Bendinger reports on one such volunteer who’s keeping an eye out the beetles around Dillingham.