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Executive director Crockett retires, worked up from typist

Posted: December 8, 2011 - 8:38pm

Marilyn Crockett, a slip of a girl fresh out of high school, met Bill Hopkins, then executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, for a job interview. Marilyn could type very well, was very proficient at shorthand (a now lost art) and the job was for a receptionist/typist.

It was 41 years ago, and at 17 years old, she felt intimidated by Hopkins and was relieved when the interview was done. She thought she blew it.

To her surprise, Hopkins called and offered her the job.

It was a fortunate decision. It launched Crockett on a long career that would eventually see her rise to take the executive director’s job, from which she is retiring at the end of December. It was a good break for AOGA too, because having someone like Crockett on staff for four decades, rising through the ranks and learning the industry’s issues, has made her a valuable source of institutional memory on a wide variety of complex government policy issues.

In an industry where managers of operating companies typically rotate from Alaska to other places, and vice versa, having that continuity of experience has been invaluable.

It was a different era when Crockett came aboard at AOGA. Cook Inlet was Alaska’s crown jewel in terms of oil production and additional platforms were being installed.

Hopkins, a former assistant to Gov. Bill Egan, was the petroleum industry’s most public persona as its chief lobbyist in Juneau in his work as director of the industry’s trade association.

There was a small staff of three, including Crockett. Long distance phone calls were a major expense. So was the copy machine bill and postage.

Things changed as the industry grew. The North Slope started up in 1977, the major operating companies, on both the North Slope and Cook Inlet, developed their own public relations and lobbying staffs.

While AOGA maintained its advocacy efforts, it also evolved into a more traditional trade association where oil and gas companies, and even refiners, could meet and talk together and work out common approaches to issues.

Trade associations like AOGA perform a valuable function as a forum for companies to meet and talk with each other, but one thing an association must be very careful about is anti-trust considerations. There can be no discussions about prices, marketing or anything that might be construed as inhibiting competition. AOGA’s rules are very strict about this, Crockett says.

As the industry grew AOGA grew, and as the industry contracted as crude oil prices periodically crashed, AOGA contracted. At one time the association had eight people on staff and a variety of public relations programs including a series of teacher orientation workshops that included field trips, some to the North Slope.

Budget cuts, as the industry hit lean times, ended some of those programs but the school programs have evolved. Alaska Resource Education, formerly AMEREF, a project of the Resource Development Council, was established and is now an independent nonprofit.

Another industry group, the Alaska Process Industry Careers Consortium, which works on workforce development, now has a well developed teacher “ex-tern” program were high school teachers spend some of their summers in actual working jobs with producing companies and contractors. 

As things tightened and communication technology advanced, AOGA slimmed down its staff and has been stable at four people for several years. The association still has an active public relations outreach program, publishing a newsletter and managing a public speaking program.

“We feel it’s very important to remind people of the industry’s economic contributions. A lot of Alaskans don’t remember what things were like here before there were oil revenues to the state,” Crockett said.

AOGA’s board, made up of the industry’s senior managers in Alaska, provides overall guidance – this year’s AOGA president is Dale Pittman, ExxonMobil Corp.’s Alaska production manager – but the association’s nuts-and-bolts work is done through its  standing committees.

The standing committees are Environmental, Health and Safety, Lands, Exploration and Operations, State Legislative, and Tax. Other committees are formed for special purposes, such as an offshore committee now active because of the new interest in exploring in the Arctic offshore.

Specialists in these areas are named to the committees. The legislative committee is very active as it oversees the association’s advocacy and legislative efforts. 

Because a lot of activity in the Legislature and the administration involves taxation, the association’s tax committee, made up of tax specialists, is also active, reviewing tax legislation and developing comments, usually technical in nature, which become part of the association’s presentations to legislative committees.

The lands committee has been concerned mainly with lease sales and has been less active in recent years with the state’s switch to its regular “area-wide” lease sales, but the committee still exists and meets on an as-needed basis, Crockett says.

The environment committee is also active, Crockett says, because it deals with highly complex state and federal air and water quality issues. In recent years there are also issues like federal Endangered Species Act designations and habitat declarations that affect the industry, and the association has become active in this area.

It is on complex regulatory issues that trade associations like AOGA can be most effective, and also provide valuable assistance to the government agencies because the association brings the combined experience and knowledge of all companies working in Alaska to bear on a problem.

Governmental agencies and legislators often want to be able to communicate with the industry as a whole, and a trade association like AOGA is a preferred was for agency officials to talk with an industry and listen to thee affected companies in one setting.

In years past AOGA was heavily involved in the development of the coastal management, through the original state legislation and regulations that implemented that, and then in the revamp of the program by former Gov. Frank Murkowski. The program ended last year when the Legislature declined to extend it. Crockett points out that the association supported an extension of the program but not any changes to it, which were proposed by some legislators.

A few other examples illustrate where AOGA, as a trade association, has been effective. One was in working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation in, most recently, the state’s assumption of federal authority to issue industrial wastewater permits.

Previously this permitting was all done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency but federal law allows the federal agency to delegate the permit authority to states, although this must be done under guidelines set by EPA. The state DEC is now assuming this authority in stages. There were several issues, most important how the changes for operating the program would be funded, where AOGA worked closely with DEC.

Previously, AOGA played a substantial role in resolving issues related to the state’s assumption of air quality permitting authority from the EPA. In this case the federal Clean Air Act requires states to fund all of the costs of administering the programs.

This got complicated because companies in many industries must obtain air quality permits and the concern was that a cost-reimbursement formula that was based only on a  simple criteria, such as tons of air pollution per year, would have operators of major facilities like oil and gas producers, refiners and utilities picking up most of the tab.

In fairness, most of the real cost of the program would come for the DEC in administering permits for a wide variety of businesses which emit much lower volumes of pollutants.

A solution worked out by an ad hoc committee formed by businesses, industries and municipalities and utility operators and with AOGA’s major involvement, led to a unique financing procedure partly based on tons of pollution and partly on the hours spent by agency personnel on a permit.

Crockett and her husband, Jack, will now become “snowbirds,” spending part of the year in warmer climates.

On Crockett’s departure, Kara Moriarty, formerly deputy director for the association, takes over as executive director. Kate Williams is the association’s staff for regulatory issues, and Tamara Sheffield, herself a long-tenure staffer of 30 years, provides support services to the organization.

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