Recommendations finalized

Agrium task force sends work to governor; Keeper raises objections

Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2005

With some objections from an Alaska conservation group, the Agrium task force approved a set of recommendations and will send them to Gov. Frank Murkowski on Friday.

The nine recommendations address ways to help Agrium stay open and to spur resource development in the Cook Inlet basin. The task force has been working on these recommendations since it began meeting in February.

Cook Inlet Keeper, a nonprofit organization focused on protecting the Cook Inlet watershed, "expressed concerns" about four of the recommendations citing that renewable forms of energy were not given a high enough priority.

"Recommendations that promote drilling anywhere and everywhere will not provide long-term jobs and economic health since they leave the region open to more boom and bust industrial development in the future," Lois Epstein, oil and gas industry specialist for the Keeper, said in her prepared remarks.

"They can pat themselves on the back, but it's missing the perspective of what it means to have long-term energy and job security instead of short term boom and bust," Epstein said in an interview.

Epstein said Murkowski deliberately excluded the "public interest" community, referring to organizations not representing government or industry.

"The governor put together this task force based on the recommendations of legislative and community leaders that would be affected by this," said Murkowski spokesman Mike Chambers. "The folks who are on this task force represent the community."

He added there was no strict prohibition to prevent anybody from Cook Inlet Keeper or another advocacy group to be on the task force.

A large portion of the meeting was spent finalizing the recommendations. The public comment period was the last item on the agenda at the meeting, so Epstein was not able to deliver her comments or provide input at Wednesday's meeting until afterward.

A draft set of the recommendations have been posted on the Kenai Peninsula Borough's oil and gas Web site since June 27.

There were no questions or comments from the task force for Epstein after she delivered her statement.

"I think the task force did a good job of looking at targeted initiatives to address the needs of the oil, gas and manufacturing industry," said task force co-chair Bill Popp.

He said he thinks the group did well on this first cut of recommendations. He added that months were spent developing them. Popp said the oil and gas industry is a significant part of the local economy and it cannot be ignored. There have been 40 years of development in the region and there are decades more in front of us, he said.

"It's an important part of the community and our continued economic health," he said, adding that he thinks the group met the mandate it was given.

John Barnes, Alaska asset team manager for Marathon Oil Co., also commented at the end of the meeting.

"Marathon compliments the task force in its efforts to address not only the particularly difficult issue associated with the plant closure itself, but in also considering the larger issues which affect the overall Cook Inlet oil and gas industry," Barnes said in a prepared statement.

He said he wants momentum and cooperative spirit generated by the task force to be refocused and for the group to continue as an oil and gas task force.

Epstein said it should be called an energy and long-term jobs task force.

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