- Associated Press - Monday, April 7, 2014

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

April 5, 2014

Anchorage Daily News: Kulluk report inspires no confidence for Arctic operations

The United States Coast Guard didn’t mince words in its report of the grounding of Shell’s drilling rig, the Kulluk, in December 2012. The Coast Guard found Shell failed both in preparation and operations, and concluded that the company decided to move the vessel despite forecasts of worsening weather in part to avoid a state property tax obligation.

None of this took place in the Arctic, where Shell did limited drilling program without incident in the summer of 2012.

All of this gives evidence that Shell is not fully prepared for Arctic operations.

A telling comment came from Rear Adm. Joseph A. Servidio, the Coast Guard’s assistant commander for prevention policy. Servidio said the most significant factor was the failure to assess and manage the extreme risks of the Gulf of Alaska.

That failure gives Alaskans little faith that Shell has done an adequate job of assessing and managing risks in the Arctic. The risks and challenges are different. But the point is not the location; the point is the performance. The Coast Guard found failures across the board, from corporate decisions to responses on the deck of the towing vessel. Even before the Kulluk grounding, the Department of the Interior limited Shell’s 2012 drilling program due to the failure of its containment barge, the Arctic Challenger, in calm seas testing.

Shell postponed any attempt at Arctic drilling off Alaska for this year long before the Coast Guard issued its report on the Kulluk, and it’s CEO said the company is reassessing how to proceed with its Arctic leases.

Interior’s attitude toward the exploration of Shell’s leases had been all-ahead slow with a promise of a close and constant watch. That was wise. Several years ago Shell executives Marvin Odum and Pete Slaiby promised a methodical, careful approach to Arctic drilling, and said their biggest worry was complacency.

The Coast Guard said complacency might have been a factor in ignored alarms on the towing vessel Aiviq during the Kulluk incident. But it’s clear complacency isn’t the only problem.

All-ahead slow — with unblinking oversight — still makes sense in the long run for Arctic oil and gas exploration. But Shell and any other operators need to make clear that they have both learned and applied the hard-earned lessons of the Kulluk grounding.

Until then, stop engines is the right course.


April 5, 2014

Anchorage Daily News: HB77’s demise is welcome

Opposing voices were many, strong and steady. As a result, House Bill 77, the governor’s effort to “streamline” development permitting, will die in committee.

Sen. Cathy Giessel said the bill has been too divisive, and that the chorus of coalition opposition from around the state has been too strong for the bill to pass, even as amended.

This bill has been begging for a stake through its heart since the House passed it in 2013 along mostly party lines — Republicans for , Democrats against. In its first iteration, it granted far too much permitting power to the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, stripped Alaskans of the right to petition for water reservations, and curtailed public notice of some permitting decisions.

In short, it cut the public out and smoothed the way for developers.

As word of the bill’s provisions spread, opposition grew. Sen. Peter Micciche held hearings in Homer and Soldotna in December that sent a powerful message that neither commercial nor sport fishermen, along with other Alaskans, would lay down for this one.

Micciche called for a revised bill. The bill was amended, and, as Micciche said, improved. But even the revised version curtails Alaskans’ rights and public notice, and leaves vague just who has standing to challenge state permitting decisions.

The bill’s opponents simply don’t trust the administration, given the obvious purpose of the bill from the get-go. As columnist Alan Boraas pointed out in these pages last month, the public didn’t ask for this bill. It came from the governor, with the intent of accelerating development projects and curtailing both notice and dissent.

If the goal truly were to make permitting swifter and more efficient, there are ways to do that without cutting public participation and public notice.

Improvements to House Bill 77 have turned the flu into a bad cold. Alaskans need neither.

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