News: Anchorage Daily News, August 14, 2002, p. A-1

Pipeline oversight has fans
OIL: Idea of citizen panel to serve as watchdog of line gaining support but opposed by oil companies.

By Wesley Loy

The idea of a new citizen panel to oversee the trans-Alaska oil pipeline is starting to catch fire among some political leaders and other oil industry watchdog groups statewide.

North Slope Borough Mayor George Ahmaogak has voiced support for a new panel. So has the Native village of Eyak, a Cordova-based tribal government.

Also supporting the idea is the citizen group that monitors oil tanker traffic out of Valdez.

The proposal comes as the six oil companies that own the 800-mile line are asking government regulators to renew their right of way across vast state and federal lands.

The owners, who operate the pipeline through an Anchorage-based consortium called Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., oppose a new citizen panel. They say the 13 federal and state regulatory agencies provide ample scrutiny and give citizens plenty of opportunity to know about and steer the pipe's operation.

The pipeline, in operation for 25 years, is a vital lifeline for the state's economy, carrying about 1 million barrels of crude oil a day south from the North Slope oil fields to a tanker terminal at Valdez.

The owners are asking for a 30-year right-of-way renewal, and regulators have tentatively recommended granting it. They haven't recommended a citizen oversight panel.

However, the regulators just wrapped up a series of public hearings on the issue and will consider oral and written testimony that could change the terms for continued operation of the pipeline.

A citizen group composed of local governments, tourism businesses, fishing and recreational interests, Natives and environmentalists monitors tankers picking up North Slope oil in Valdez. Over opposition from oil companies, Congress required a citizen oversight panel for Prince William Sound after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council sponsors research and takes sides in disputes involving the industry and government. Cook Inlet got a similar panel.

Now another citizen panel, to be funded by the oil industry, is needed to look after hundreds of miles of upcountry pipeline between Prudhoe Bay and Valdez, some say.

Ahmaogak, testifying at a hearing on Friday in Barrow, said North Slope residents have much to lose if something goes wrong with the pipeline.

"It has long been clear that North Slope Inupiat residents bear most of the risk associated with industrialization of our traditional homeland," Ahmaogak said. "Good public policy, environmental justice and common decency demand that we have a voice not only in the permitting of projects but also in the ongoing operations of facilities which so massively and directly threaten our environment and culture."

Many are uncomfortable with a lease renewal as long as 30 years, and forming a new citizen committee could ease some worries, Ahmaogak said.

Steve Jones, manager of Alyeska's right-of-way renewal effort, said the pipeline owners aren't opposed to public oversight, but they don't care to spend money and add more costs to doing business in Alaska "without adding any discernible value."

The Joint Pipeline Office, a coalition of 13 state and federal regulatory agencies, already provides oversight and public involvement, and the pipeline has been well-maintained, Jones said.

"There doesn't appear to be any need for an additional layer of funded oversight," he said.

If the Prince William Sound advisory council is any indication, a new citizen panel likely would cost the oil industry millions of dollars. The Sound council has a $2.8 million budget, almost all of it paid by the oil industry, spokesman Stan Jones said. It has made recommendations that cost the industry much greater sums, such as adding powerful tanker escort tugs and vapor capture equipment at tanker berths in Valdez.

Still, he said the state estimates the North Slope will produce $7.9 billion worth of oil this year, making oversight panels a minor expense.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)


 Fairbanks News Miner, August 13, 2002, p. A)


Slope mayor wants an eye on pipeline
Staff Writer

North Slope Mayor George Ahmaogak Sr. advocated for a citizen advisory committee for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline during last Friday's public hearing for pipeline permit renewals in Barrow.

Such a committee is opposed by the oil industry and business leaders. The idea has been forwarded by environmentalists and others who say one is needed for independent oversight of the 800-mile pipeline and its accompanying infrastructure.

The citizens oversight group would be modeled after regional citizens advisory councils established by federal law after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Ahmaogak said.

"The guiding rationale behind their establishment is that citizens with the most at risk from such operations ought to have some say in the management decisions which could affect them," Ahmaogak testified.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Company is seeking permit renewal for the pipeline and its facilities. The Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Natural Resources have issued draft decisions on the renewal. Both documents favor the 30-year renewal and offer little in the way of regulatory changes. Neither call for a citizens committee.

Thirteen people gave remarks at Barrow's public hearing, said Rhea DoBosh, Joint Pipeline Office spokeswoman. It was the last of seven public hearings held in the state. Testimony in Barrow ranged from full support for the draft decisions to calls for more oversight and extension of the comment period, which ends Tuesday, Aug. 20.

Ahmaogak said North Slope residents have the most to lose if something goes wrong.

"It has long been clear that North Slope Inupiat residents bear most of the risk associated with the industrialization of our traditional homeland," Ahmaogak said.

"Good public policy, environmental justice and common decency demand that we have a voice not only in the permitting of projects, but also in the ongoing operations of facilities which so massively and directly threaten our environment and culture."

A citizens committee would be a good answer to the North Slope Borough's unease with a 30-year renewal for the pipeline, which is too long of a period for such a massive and critically important facility, Ahmaogak said.

Ahmaogak's reasoning makes sense, said Richard Fineberg, a member of the Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility.

Fineberg testified at all seven of the pipeline hearings, discussing maintenance issues and inaccuracies in the draft EIS, among other things. The forum has been spearheading efforts to establish the committee.

"I was very heartened by the mayor's testimony," Fineberg said. "Since the borough, the mayor and the people consider themselves a strong ally of the industry, it's very clear that people in the North Slope Borough must be very concerned to part company on this issue."

Arctic Slope Regional Corp. officials oppose the formation of a citizens advisory council, said JPO's DoBosh. Arctic Slope is the Alaska Native corporation established by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and is headquartered in Barrow.

Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Rhonda Boyles testified last week in Fairbanks that she opposes the idea of a citizens advisory committee. On Monday she reiterated her views.

"It's my opinion that citizen advisory committees cost the oil companies more money," she said. "Anytime Alyeska spends more money, that's less that goes to the entire state."

Bert Cottle, mayor of Valdez, said that his city council hasn't addressed the issue yet. But he praised the efforts of the Prince William Sound Citizens Advisory Council, which is seated in Valdez.

"They do a good job," Cottle said. "Not much goes on that they don't know about."

Alyeska offered little comment on Ahmaogak's endorsement for the committee, saying that they didn't want to publicly debate issues while the comment period was still open.

"We don't believe that citizen oversight should be part of the National Environmental Protection Act process," said Marnie Isaacs, a member of the Alyeska's TAPS right-of-way team.