Follow our reviews of the 2014 legislative sessions (upcoming)

Gov. Bill Walker and House Speaker Mike Chenault are working to bury the hatchet, Chenault said Thursday morning (March 5). House leaders and the governor met for lunch on Wednesday and Walker invited Chenault for breakfast at the Governor’s Mansion Thurday morning for a one-on-one. The morning session was cordial, Chenault said.

Things went south  the relationship, which was already rocky, when Walker flew off the handle in a press conference last week over a bill House leaders introducing placing limits on the governor’s ability to spend money on expanding a state-led gas pipeline, the Alaska Stand-Alone Pipeline, or ASAP.  Walker impuned the character of House leaders, saying “who are they really working for?”, which brought a harsh response from legislators. Chenault said Thursday (March 5) he told the governor during the Wednesday lunch, “don’t ever say something like that again.”  Walker’s outburst the prior week is being laid to a quick temper and impulsiveness.  (See more in our next edition of Legislative Digest next Monday, March 9).

Gov. Bill Walker introduced his long-awaiting FY 2016 operating and capital budgets Thursday. These are the governor’s “amendments” to the existing budget bills before the House and Senate, which are templates based on the budgets developed by former Gov. Sean Parnell. Walker cut $132 million to reductions made in Parnell’s proposal. The total general fund spending reduction from FY 2015 is $240 million.

Gov. Bill Walker will introduce his long-awaiting FY 2016 operating and capital budgets on Thursday. These are the governor’s “amendments” to the existing budget bills before the House and Senate, which are understood as templates based on the budgets developed by former Gov. Sean Parnell.

Acting Revenue Commissioner Marsha Davis has been booted upstairs to the Governor’s Office to assist Chief of Staff Jim Whitaker. Davis will continue to live in Anchorage. Meanwhile, new Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck is back in state and has taken over the top job at Revenue.

Former state revenue commissioner Sterling Gallagher is now a Special Assistant for Finance in Gov. Bill Walker’s office. Gallagher said he will be taking a look at the investment performance of state assets, some of which have been underperforming, he said.

Lower oil prices are beginning to be felt in Fairbanks in lower heating oil prices–reported most recently at $3.40/gal. and headed down–and that is threatening to upend a plan to build a small liquefied natural gas liquefaction plant at Prudhoe Bay and to truck LNG to the Interior city. Cost estimates of the LNG project are rising, which is increasing the expected price of gas to consumers.

Delivered costs could now reach $18 to $20 per million British Thermal Units, up from the revised target of $15 (originally, the target was $12). A delivered-to-consumers gas price of $18/mmbtu correlates roughly to an oil cost of $2.40/gallon, and a $20/mmbtu price is about the equal of $2.70/gallon.

The three Interior utilities being asked to sign up to buy trucked LNG are now worried that fuel prices edging down from previous highs of over $4/gallon will hike consumer resistance to paying the hefty conversion cost from oil to gas. If that happens it will undercut the demand for gas, undermining the economics of LNG trucking.

Another complication is that Hilcorp Energy, which owns Cook Inlet gas ans is the new owner of a small LNG plant in the MatSu Borough (formerly owned by Fairbanks Natural Gas) has offered to sell Cook Inlet gas as LNG to Fairbanks for $15 per mmbtu. WesPac Midstream, which hopes to develop a medium-sized LNG plant at Port MacKenzie, says it can supply LNG for $14.50 although the company has yet to nail down a gas supply. REI Alaska Inc., developing a one million LNG plant in Cook Inlet for export, said it can also supply Alaskan markets including the Interior.

The sudden drop in crude oil prices, nearing $80 per barrel on Oct. 15, has sent shudders through the state government. Ironically, the Department of Revenue has just started work on the Fiscal 2016 production and revenue forecast, which will be published in late November or early December. The drop in oil prices, which may last a while, pundits say, would undermine current FY 2015 revenues and push the $1.4 billion deficit that was projected at a $104/barrel average higher. In previous years a rule-of-thumb was that each $1 drop in oil prices, if it stayed low for the year, cost the treasury $50 million. Revenue officials say that’s more complicated now with the new SB-21 oil tax in effect. We’ll have to wait a few weeks until the revenue forecast to glimpse the future. (More on this in our upcoming Alaska Economic Report).

Alaska North Slope oil producers appear to have halted a long-term decline in annual production, state production data showed.
For the first 10 months of the state’s 2014 fiscal year, production has averaged 532,700 b/d, data through April showed. Preliminary data for May and June indicates the trend is likely to hold.
Average production for the 2013 fiscal year was 531,600 b/d. The state fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.
The figures are subject to adjustment, said Cherie Nienhuis, a petroleum analyst with the Alaska Department of Revenue, but the data indicates the state will end its current fiscal year on June 30 with North Slope output roughly on par with the previous year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Singapore’s Sovereign Wealth Fund (that nation’s Permanent Fund) is looking at an Alaska investment, Alaska Dispatch publisher and Anchorage Daily News owner (after May 5) Alice Roghoff told an Alaska World Affairs luncheon May 2. Roghoff was speaking on Arctic issues with former Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, who is chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Council.

Roghoff, a businesswoman, has been active on Arctic issues for years and is the co-founder of Arctic Circle, a private nonprofit that hosts seminars and conferences on matters affecting Arctic nations including the U.S. Her message May 2 was that there is a woeful lack of infrastructure on the western Alaska coasts to respond to emergencies from increased shipping–oil spills, vessel, crew and passenger emergencies, and the region needs new investment in docks and other facilities. Read the rest of this entry »

« Older entries