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Commissioner looks at oil and gas

Posted: June 14, 2011 - 8:49am

Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan has filled three key management positions in his department with experienced leaders who will be tasked with new goals for managing the state’s resources.

At the Division of Oil and Gas, petroleum engineer Bill Barron will manage the state’s oil and gas resources. Kevin Banks, the previous director, will return to his previous position as chief of the division’s commercial section.

Kurt Gibson, formerly deputy director of the Division of Oil and Gas, will lead the Alaska Gasline Coordinator’s Office, a position that has been vacant since last fall, when Mark Myers, the previous director, was named as research vice president for the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Brent Goodrum, a former Marine officer, will lead the department’s Division of Mining, Land and Water. Sullivan said Goodrum will have a key role in managing the division’s efforts to reform its permitting process and address a backlog of permit.

At the Division of Oil and Gas, Barron will be a key player in the department’s strategy to achieve Gov. Sean Parnell’s goal of increasing the flow of oil through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System to 1 million barrels per day within a decade, Sullivan said.

He has more than 20 years of experience working in Alaska’s oil and gas fields. He was most recently with CH2M Hill, where he managed North Slope, Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet operations and maintenance, and in the past two years, the company’s Canada and Lower 48 operations. Barron worked in Alaska, the Lower 48 and overseas for Marathon Oil, Sullivan said.

Barron is a petroleum engineer and a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin with a degree in the field. He was with Marathon for 25 years, starting as a summer intern with the company, and over the years worked on a variety of fields, including reservoir engineering, facility engineering and commercial analysis both domestic and international.

In Alaska, among other jobs, he held responsibility for production operations at the Steelhead and Dolly Varden platforms in Cook Inlet.

In Barron’s work with Veco, and then CH2M Hill, which purchased Veco, he held responsibility for all ConocoPhillips facility engineering projects done by CH2M Hill, including the CD3 and CD4 drill sites developed by the company and the planned CD5 drill site, which has been delayed.

He also managed CH2M Hill’s work in support of Cook Inlet operations.

Barron hopes to focus on shortening the gap between the time a lease is issued, exploration is done and any discovery is developed and produced.

“Working with all stakeholders, I want to find ways to decrease the time it takes to bring a new discovery into production,” he said in an interview.

He also will work in support of the commissioner and governor in their efforts to enlist federal agencies in a coordinated strategy to increase production in Alaska, Barron said.

As coordinator of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA) Office, Gibson will oversee state regulatory activities involving the TransCanada/ExxonMobil Corp. proposal to build a North Slope natural gas pipeline, Sullivan said in announcing the appointment.

As the deputy director at the oil and gas division Gibson led the commercial branch of the AGIA team for the past four years. He has also provided key guidance on major negotiations between the state and oil industry players, such as the Point Thomson litigation, Sullivan said. Gibson previously worked in Lower 48 as a natural gas trader and engineer specializing in natural gas pipeline projects.

In an interview, Gibson said he and a small staff will work to ensure TransCanada meets its requirements with the license awarded to the pipeline company under AGIA. He will also assist the Department of Revenue in that agency’s work to assure that state reimbursements to TransCanada and its partner, ExxonMobil, are for qualified expenditures, he said.

Under the AGIA contract the state reimbursed TransCanada and ExxonMobil for 50 percent of expenses leading up to an open season for the pipeline held in 2010. Currently, under the license, the state is reimbursing 90 percent of expenses as the two companies do further engineering and field work related to a late-2012 filing of an application to build a pipeline with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.

FERC rules allow an Alaskan pipeline applicant to file an application with the federal agency without first having signed commercial agreements with gas shippers, Gibson said. The state will pay a maximum of $500 million to support the companies’ work under the AGIA contract.

Gibson defended the state’s policy of encouraging, under the AGIA contract, the two companies to continue work toward the FERC license even without having secured commercial contracts in the initial open season.

“Any pipeline project would be better off with commitments from commercial shippers, but this process has allowed us to learn a lot about the project, and we’re better off for it,” Gibson said.

The gas pipeline is further along than it has even been, Gibson said, with the open season held last year and the continuing work on engineering and environmental conditions will add to the information that is available.

“We’ll have a much better picture of what this project looks like in terms of its risk and how to spread the risks among the stakeholders. We can’t deny that we are much further along,” he said.

TransCanada is continuing to work with prospective shippers that indicated an interest in the project during the open season last year, but so far has not signed precedent agreements with any potential shippers. These are the first stage of a process leading to firm transportation agreements, the actual shipping contracts, which are binding.

In naming Goodrum the new director of land and water management, Sullivan said, “Goodrum stood out as an exceptional candidate for the job due to his track record of leading complex organizations and making them operate more efficiently.”

Goodrum is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and holds a master’s degree in operations research from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

In his 20 years with the Marine Corps, Goodrum said he has managed a number of assignments involving complex organizational issues and the startup of new programs. He came to Alaska in 2003 to manage a small Marine contingent working with reservists in the state, and then rotated to other assignments in 2008.

In the lands and water management division, Goodrum will manage a staff of about 200 who work on a broad mix of land and resource issues ranging from land dispositions, surface leases, water rights, mining and even remote cabin sites.

An immediate assignment is taking on a backlog of 2,500 applications for permits and other land authorizations that have accumulated over several years. The Legislature gave the division extra money this year to hire staff, and the commissioner has set a goal of getting the backlog cleared within three years.

In an interview, Goodrum and Wyn Menefee, who was acting director of the division and who remains as chief of operations, said the delayed permits cover the gamut of general land dispositions and accumulated not only because of lack of personnel but also because of systematic problems in the state’s permitting systems.

To that end, Goodrum will also be closely involved with DNR Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels’ initiative to reform and streamline state permit procedures.

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