alaska

After Years-Long Push, Fracking Has Quietly Arrived in Alaska

Hydraulic fracturing's horizontal drilling technique has enabled industry to tap otherwise difficult-to-access oil and gas in shale basins throughout the U.S. and increasingly throughout the world. And now “fracking,” as it's known, could soon arrive at a new frontier: Alaska.

As Bloomberg reported in March, Paul Basinski, a pioneer of fracking in Texas' prolific Eagle Ford Shale, has led the push to explore fracking's potential there, in what's been dubbed “Project Icewine.” His company, Burgundy Xploration, is working on fracking in Alaska's North Slope territory alongside the Australia-based company 88 Energy (formerly Tangiers Petroleum).

“The land sits over three underground bands of shale, from 3,000 to 20,000 feet below ground, that are the source rocks for the huge conventional oilfields to the north,” wrote Bloomberg. “The companies’ first well, Icewine 1, confirmed the presence of petroleum in the shale and found a geology that should be conducive to fracking.”

Comparing Mine Management in B.C. and Alaska is Embarrassing (and Explains Why Alaskans Are So Mad)

Tulsequah Chief Mine. CSMPhoto

Alaskans tired of living under the threat of B.C.’s poorly regulated mines are taking the matter to the state’s House Fisheries Committee in an effort to escalate an international response to ongoing issues such as the slow leakage of acidic waste from the deserted Tulsequah Chief Mine in northwest B.C. into the watershed of one of the richest salmon runs in the B.C./Alaska transboundary region.

On Thursday the committee will assess a resolution sponsored by several House Representatives “urging the United States government to continue to work with the government of Canada to investigate the long-term, region-wide downstream effects of proposed and existing industrial development and to develop measures to ensure that state resources are not harmed by upstream development in B.C.”

Although Tulsequah is a catalyst, concerns go deeper as B.C. is handing out permits for a clutch of proposed new mines close to the Alaskan border, including the KSM mine, the largest open-pit gold and copper mine in North America.

Alaskan Coalition Calls on U.S. to Investigate B.C. Mines

Mount Polley Mine Spill

Six B.C. mines pose threats to Alaska’s most productive salmon rivers and should be investigated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, according to a coalition of conservation groups and Alaskan First Nations who are invoking legislation that says it is the Interior Department’s duty to investigate when foreign nationals may be affecting U.S conservation treaties.

A petition presented to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell suggests that B.C. mines close to the Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds diminish the effectiveness of two treaties that protect Pacific salmon, steelhead trout, grizzly bears and woodland caribou.

The treaties are the Convention for the Conservation of Anadromous Stocks in the North Pacific Ocean and the Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere.

The coalition of U.S. and Canadian groups, including Earthjustice, the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, Sierra Club of B.C., Craig Tribal Association, Friends of the Stikine Society and Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, are echoing a previous call by Alaska’s congressional delegation to refer the transboundary mines controversy to the International Joint Commission.

Feds Rely On Industry-Funded Study To Push For More Offshore Oil Exploitation

On Monday, April 25th, President Barack Obama tweeted out the following message to nearly 74 million followers on Twitter:
 

The tweet garnered thousands of shares and likes, and on the surface it appeared to be a genuine plea for action on climate change. But as we’ve seen all too often from this administration, what they say in public rarely matches what takes place behind closed doors.
 
Less than one day after President Obama tweeted out that message on climate change, David Sirota and Ned Resnikoff from the International Business Times aimed a spotlight at the Obama administration’s hypocrisy in an investigative piece that exposed again the fossil fuel industry's influence over our government. Prior to that, the Public Accountability Initiative had revealed the massive influence that the industry had over the government's assessment of the economic impacts of offshore drilling.

Meet Jeffery Hildebrand, the Texas Oil Billionaire Who Wants to Drill in the Arctic

This is a guest post by Tim Donaghy of Greenpeace USA.

Royal Dutch Shell may have recently scrapped its plans to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, but the oil industry has not given up its designs on the Arctic Ocean’s fossil fuels. In September, Houston-based company Hilcorp submitted a plan to develop and produce oil from the Liberty prospect in the Beaufort Sea off the north coast of Alaska. If the Obama administration approves Hilcorp’s plan it will mark a dubious milestone: the first oil produced entirely from federal waters in the Arctic Ocean. The President has made several important decisions in recent months to slow or halt Arctic oil exploration, but he can still do more. President Obama has the power to keep Arctic oil in the ground for good, and approving Hilcorp’s plan would be a step in the wrong direction.

B.C. Minister Bennett’s Visit Fails to Ease Alaskans’ Mining Concerns

Bill Bennett

Promises of a closer relationship between B.C. and Alaska and more consultation on B.C. mine applications are a good start, but, so far, Southeast Alaska has no more guarantees that those mines will not pollute salmon-bearing rivers than before this week’s visit by B.C.’s Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett, say Alaskan fishing and conservation groups.

Bennett, accompanied by senior civil servants from the ministries of Energy and Mines and Environment, took a conciliatory tone as he met with state officials, policy-makers and critics of what is seen as an aggressive push by B.C. to develop mines in the transboundary area, close to vitally important salmon rivers such as the Unuk, Taku and Stikine.

I understand why people feel so strongly about protecting what they have,” Bennett said in a Juneau news conference with Alaska Lt. Governor Byron Mallott.

There’s a way of life here that has tremendous value and the people here don’t want to lose it. I get that,” he said.

But promises of a strengthened dialogue and more opportunities to comment on mine applications fall far short of a growing chorus of Alaskan demands that the issue be referred to the International Joint Commission, formed under the Boundary Waters Treaty, which forbids either country from polluting transboundary waters.

Living Downstream of B.C.’s Gold Rush: Alaska’s Fishermen Fear End of ‘Last Wild Frontier’

Taku Inlet

No fish in the car, warned the rental car attendant at Juneau airport, with the weary tone of someone who had cleaned too many fish guts out of returned vehicles. It was a warning underlined by signs in hotels pleading with guests not to clean fish in the hotel bathrooms.

Fishing is in the DNA of Southeast Alaskans, not only as a sport and common way of filling the freezer, but also as a driver of the state economy. So it is not surprising that the perceived threat presented by a rush of mine applications on the B.C. side of the border has brought together diverse groups who want B.C. to give Alaska an equal seat at the decision-making table and to have the issue referred for review to the International Joint Commission.

I can’t conceive of not being able to fish for salmon. The grief would be too much to fathom,” said Heather Hardcastle, co-owner of Taku River Reds who has been commercial fishing for most of her life.

We share these waters and we share these fish. There has to be an international solution,” she said.

Alaska Fishing Community Spurred to Action by Mount Polley Spill

Wrangell, Alaska, wharf

Wrangell, Alaska — A fishing boat chugs across the water in front of the patio at Wrangell’s Stikine Inn, temporarily disrupting dinner conversation as residents of the tiny Southeast Alaska town tuck into heaped plates of rockfish and chips.

At the next table, where a group of friends are celebrating an 80th birthday, the talk is all about the next day’s fishing plans. The new salmon smoker is working well, there were more than 40 crabs in the pots yesterday and everyone wants to be out on the water before 9 a.m. tomorrow because there are king salmon to be caught.

Commercial and sports fishing fill the freezers and wallets of Wrangell residents but, out of mind for many of them, behind the shield of the Coast Mountains, lurks a threat that could annihilate the area’s fishing and tourism-based economy.

Shell To Proceed With Arctic Drilling Despite Damaged Icebreaker Ship Carrying Critical Emergency Gear Heading To Portland For Repairs

Shell officials are still hoping to launch exploratory drilling this month at the company’s Burger prospect, 70 miles off the coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea, even though a key ship in its fleet was forced back to port before it had even left the harbor last week after a 3-foot-long gash was discovered in its hull.

The company has to send the MSV Fennica to Portland because Terminal 5 at the port of Seattle, where Shell’s two drilling rigs were stored before they departed for Alaska, is a cargo terminal that doesn’t allow heavy repairs.

It is expected to take several weeks to repair the Fennica, according to FuelFix. The trip to Portland alone will take more than a week, and the Fennica appears to still be in Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands right now. But Shell has already begun moving its fleet into place in the Chukchi Sea, and does not plan on waiting for the Fennica to return before commencing drilling activities.

Will a Century-Old Treaty Protect Alaska's Salmon Rivers from B.C.'s Mining Boom?

Southeast Alaskans, anxious about B.C.'s mining boom along the Alaskan border, are pinning their hopes for stronger mine management on a treaty that dates back more than a century.

The International Joint Commission (IJC), operating under the Boundary Waters Treaty since 1909, is a body with six appointed members —three from Canada and three from the U.S. — used to resolve water or air conflicts between the two countries.

However, although the commission appears to be tailor-made to deal with the concern over B.C. mines in the headwaters of Southeast Alaska’s most important salmon rivers, politicians on both side of the border appear reluctant to hand over responsibility to a commission whose recommendations remain entirely independent of either party.

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