News that a sale of the Williams Cos. refinery in North Pole might be making progress is good to hear, especially for the employees who have been in limbo since the company announced in June of last year that it was selling all of its Alaska holdings.
When Williams announced it was selling its Alaska holdings, which also include 29 Williams Express stores, two terminals and a share of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, some had hoped an Alaska company or group would make an offer. Despite the urging of then-Sen. Frank Murkowski, it appears an Outside company has the edge.
Alaskans need to learn about the potential newcomer Flint Hills Resources of Wichita, Kan.
Flint Hills Resources operates refining complexes in Minnesota and Texas, has operations in Canada and is a 2-year-old subsidiary of Koch Industries, one of the nation's largest privately held companies.
In looking at Williams' Alaska properties, Flint Hills managers are doing what the subsidiary was designed to do expand. Back in May 2001, a Koch spokeswoman said executives realized they needed to create the subsidiary so they could compete well when acquisition opportunities appeared.
Just this year, Flint Hills reached an agreement to acquire from Shell Oil Co. a 50 percent ownership in a Louisiana oil venture.
Koch Industries, the parent company, is no small player in the energy and petroleum products industries. It operates globally and in nearly every state and deals not only in petroleum and energy but also in minerals, ranching and finance.
The company made news of a sour sort in 2000, when it became the subject of the largest fine ever imposed on a company under federal environmental law.
In settling two lawsuits brought by the state of Texas and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Koch Industries agreed to pay a $30 million civil penalty and spend $5 million on environmental projects to resolve claims stemming from about 300 oil spills in six states in the South and Midwest.
The company had been accused of allowing, through corroded pipes, about 3 million gallons of crude oil and other products to leak into waterways during most of the 1990s.
The settlement requires the company to assess its 2,500 miles of pipeline, repair all defects and improve its leak-detection system. The company remains under the terms of the agreement.
Koch Industries, on its Web site ( www.kochind.com), does list several areas where it says it is improving and excelling, particularly in worker safety and in reducing emissions from some of its plants.
Finding a buyer for the Williams' holdings in Alaska is important, and Flint Hills Resources and its parent would be welcome here. Even so, Alaskans should take time to learn about this company, as well as the successes and failures of its parent, and decide for themselves.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
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