Nobody's paying attention to Alaska's biggest deal in generation

Philip Wight, a scholar on the history of oil development in Alaska, is right.

“The most important Alaska business deal in a generation is currently underway, but hardly anyone is talking about it,” he wrote in a recent letter to the editor of the Daily News-Miner.

The sale of BP’s assets to Hilcorp has immense implications for Alaska, but the proposal has received almost no press coverage and the Dunleavy administration has done nothing to ensure a vigorous public debate.

“As the dominant TAPS owner (48.44%), Hilcorp would effectively control the management of Alyeska, the service company responsible for the operations and safety of the pipeline and its tankers. Hilcorp would play the single-largest role in determining how much money is spent maintaining the pipeline and the safety culture of Alyeska. Hilcorp’s relatively small size, lack of transparency as a private company and history of safety and environmental violations should prompt questions from all Alaskans,” Wight said.

Wight is the author of "Arctic Artery: The trans-Alaska Pipeline System and the World It Made,” a doctoral dissertation he has been working on for four years at Brandeis University.

“Hilcorp’s new role in overseeing Alyeska and TAPS raises significant environmental, regulatory and public interest issues. Hilcorp has one of the worst safety and environmental records of any oil company operating in Alaska. Among its three most egregious incidents was an accident in 2015 that nearly killed three workers, an aging and poorly maintained Hilcorp underwater Cook Inlet pipeline that ruptured and leaked methane for months in 2017 and the death of a worker on the North Slope in 2018,” he said.

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska website includes only four public comments so far. The deadline for public comments is 5 p.m. Friday.

Two of the four people who commented on the site say they tried to use the RCA online comment system, but it didn’t work.

Perhaps that is the reason that only four people have commented on one of the biggest Alaska business decisions in a generation. I tried to use the system today and it didn’t work.

I agree with Wight that the RCA has not allowed for enough time for Alaskans to understand what is happening with the Hilcorp sale and what questions should be asked by the public and the state.

At a minimum, the RCA needs to extend the deadline for public comments.

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council asks that comments be accepted at least until Nov. 1. I tend to agree with Rick Steiner, one of the four commenters, that 60 more days should be allowed for comments “on this extraordinary business deal with high public interest.”

“RCA should not allow Hilcorp to conceal its audited financial statements. The public has an overriding interest in Hilcorp disclosing its audited financial returns as part of securing a stake in Alaska’s most important economic artery The RCA should ensure transparency for this critically important sale,” Steiner wrote.

Donna Schantz, executive director of the citizens advisory council, said the RCA notice about the Hilcorp deal was not placed on the state public notice website, so many Alaskans did not know that the process had started.

Shantz said it was only upon contact with the RCA office last Tuesday “that we realized this is the only opportunity for the public to comment on the entire transfer of BP’s assets to Hilcorp.”

The Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition will also be hosting a public education and comment session at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Murie Building, Room 301.

Dermot Cole5 Comments