- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

May 31, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Keeping interior roads safe

With Interior roads clean and free of wintertime hazards such as freezing rain, ice fog or glare ice, it can be hard to believe there’s an elevated risk of accidents at this time of year. But in Alaska and across the nation, the roughly 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day are the deadliest stretch of the year on the roads. The reason why has to do with issues we don’t always think of when we think of road hazards - and some that we do think of but to which we still need to devote more energy.

One of the primary reasons for the elevated accident risk at this time of year is simply there are far more vehicles on the road. With Interior summer weather sunny and warm, residents and visitors take to the roads to enjoy the day around town and further afield. And the nice weather also means more pedestrians and cyclists out and about, meaning drivers need to devote attention not just to the increased number of cars around them but also those entering, exiting or crossing the roadway.

Another factor in summer crashes isn’t exclusive to the season but still merits serious consideration - distracted driving. The advent of smart phones, in-car video entertainment systems and other technology can often divide a driver’s focus. But giving in to the temptation to check texts, use apps or use a touch-screen device for any purpose while your car is moving is both dangerous and unlawful. Studies have shown distracted driving can be every bit as dangerous, and in some cases even more so, than driving while intoxicated. Changes to Alaska’s distracted-driving law this year should mean it will be much more stringently enforced, dissuading drivers for whom staying safe isn’t motivation enough.

Summer is also the time when road construction dots Alaska’s roads. Even with proper signage, it’s easy to come across a road crew quickly when driving at road speed. With people and equipment in the roadway, both crews and drivers can be at risk, so slow down and take extra care when in a construction zone.

Making sure you drive safely is just part of the equation in reducing road dangers. To bring down the number of crashes, it’s important to do what you can to mitigate dangerous behavior by others. Much of this is the skill set known as defensive driving: Give yourself more than enough room to stop if the car ahead of you suddenly brakes or gets into an accident. Don’t test your luck on a stale green or yellow light - if you think it’s likely to change, slow down instead of accelerating. Even though it’s summer and the sun is up until midnight or later, keep your headlights on for visibility’s sake. And if you see another driver behaving erratically or in a dangerous manner, call 911 to report what’s going on. Police officers and Alaska State Troopers can’t be everywhere at once, so it’s a great help to have citizens looking out in the name of road safety.

Summer is here and conditions are excellent - let’s each do our part to make the roughly 100 days between now and Labor Day safer on Alaska roads.


May 27, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Legacy wells need full clean-up

After more than half a century, there may finally be movement in getting a series of polluting test wells on Alaska’s North Slope cleaned up. Many of the more than 100 wells drilled in the 1940s and 1950s were improperly capped after drilling, causing leakage and environmental damage. But these wells weren’t drilled by derelict producers, they were the product of surveying by the federal government. And it has taken considerable time, effort and funding to get the government at long last to make cleanup of the sites a priority.

The wells were drilled by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Navy 60-70 years ago. Though Alaskans have known about the issues for a long time and clamored to get the federal government to clean up its mess, the Bureau of Land Management, which is now responsible for the wells, has been surprisingly slow to act. This has become a particular point of contention with Alaskans and members of the state’s delegation in Washington, D.C., because of the government’s often high regulatory hurdles to oil and gas development by private companies. If the government is holding private companies to a high standard with regard to operational safety and low environmental impact, it stands to reason that it should abide by its own standard with wells the government itself drills or has drilled.

Until 2002, the effort to clean up legacy wells had little traction in the halls of government, despite potential impacts to wildlife and North Slope residents. Since then, awareness of the issue has grown, with dozens of the worst wells remediated. Much of that work has been done since 2013, when Sen. Lisa Murkowski was able to procure $50 million in funding for well cleanup. Despite cleanup of the wells being a stated priority for BLM, the agency wasn’t successful in arguing for more funding to deal with the problem until Alaska’s delegation did the heavy lifting.

To be sure, cleaning up the wells isn’t cheap: BLM spent $99 million between 2002 and 2013 cleaning up 21 of the most polluted sites. Since the 2013 funding came through, the agency surveyed all 136 wells and determined 50 were in need of remediation via site clean up, proper capping or other action. Three of those 50 wells have been cleaned up so far. This year, in the most expansive effort to date, another 18 are scheduled for cleanup. BLM officials expect that will exhaust the $50 million allocated in 2013, leaving 29 wells yet to be addressed.

At a cost of roughly $2 million per well cleaned up so far, that will mean roughly $60 million - maybe more - in funding. Given the history of the issue, it seems likely that Alaska’s senators will once again be the ones who move their colleagues to provide that funding. They should have the full support of their colleagues - and the Obama administration. It goes against basic notions of fairness to hold private industry to a higher or more restrictive standard than that applied to the government itself. Funding to complete the remediation of legacy wells should come in full and without hesitation. The clean-up policy on the North Slope shouldn’t be “do as we say, not as we do.”

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