Oil and Gas official seeks more funding

Posted: Friday, January 19, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state needs better technology and better-paid experts to make sure it gets a fair share of money from oil produced in Alaska, the director of the state Division of Oil and Gas said.

The state is losing professionals to the oil industry because the companies pay nearly twice as much for some jobs, division director Mark Myers told the House Special Committee on Oil and Gas on Thursday.

Companies pour millions of dollars into three-dimensional seismic exploration on state lands, Myers said, but the state has access to just about a quarter of it, partly because the division doesn't have enough software to read the data or enough geophysicists to interpret it.

This puts the state at a disadvantage when negotiating with industry, Myers said.

The seismic information helps show whether oil is coming from part of a field where the state's share of the take is relatively low or where the state's share is higher. The underground data isn't conclusive and can be interpreted differently by different parties. The state must have information to be able to challenge the industry's interpretation.

''Subtle shifts mean hundreds of millions of dollars,'' Myers said. ''It's a very tough business and the stakes are huge. We have to have very smart people that know the right questions to ask.''

The division's budget is about half that of the federal Minerals Management Service in Alaska, which has similar responsibilities on federal lands, Myers said, yet the state handles about 10 times as much activity.

The federal government pays geologists $96,500 when the value of a cost-of-living adjustment is included, Myers said. The state pays $75,000, while the industry pays on average $114,000 a year plus a cost-of-living bonus for working in Alaska.

''You look at the oil company salaries, we are just totally out of whack,'' Myers said. ''We've lost several people. We will lose several more.''

Myers wants to bump salaries 20 percent for about 15 positions, which would cost about $300,000. He's been on the job just two weeks, and that request hasn't gone through the governor's office yet, Myers said.

The governor's budget also seeks $138,000 for software for the division and $400,000 to fill vacant jobs, Myers said.

Rep. Joe Green, R-Anchorage, said Myers made a good case for more funding.

''If we don't have the people necessary, the state could lose millions and millions of dollars,'' Green said.

However, the division's request will have to compete with compelling pleas for money from many other parts of state government, Green added.

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