Subscribe to Petroleum News: The Regulatory Commission of Alaska has approved increased shipping rates for the Endicott and Northstar pipelines and a decreased rate for the Milne Point Pipeline. Through a subsidiary, Hilcorp Alaska LLC operates all three pipelines. Under the new rates, the cost to use the Endicott pipeline bet....
Andy Holleman Dave, I find one part confusing....you say " The piece quotes some who contend that those supporting SB 21, Alaska's oil tax reform law, misled the public. Any Alaskan who trumpets blame undermines cooperation and defies the public interest. "
There's no question that some of the supporters of SB 21 mislead people. There's no question some of the opponents of SB 21 misled people.
Why is seeking clarity on that in defiance of the public interest?? Especially when you close with a warning against false prophets.
Would it not be in the public's best interest, going forward, to know who was truthful and who was not?
And for the record, I'm not talking about folks that made predictions that were labeled as such, but people that implied things that weren't true.
Dave Harbour You raise valid points, Andy. I should have more clearly stated my intent: "in this critical year we should focus on cooperative solutions rather than who did what to whom in the past. While investing our full energy to find solutions in 2015, we should distinguish between actors seeking personal gain from those seeking the best outcome for all Alaskans." Thank you for the nudge to clarify.
Dave Harbour Good comment, Steve. In fact, over the years I have referred to your analysis a number of times, until later information replaced it. I believe that as of 2012, the unfunded PERS/TRS liability was in the $11.8 billion range following some annual payments in the $250-300 million range. Then, in the last session the liability was 'paid down' by $3 billion. I'd hesitate to guess at today's actual number -- especially when state offices are closed right now -- but believe it is likely to be between $8.5-9.5 billion. Next week, I'll try to run the current -- or latest available -- number down. In any case, the number is big and offsets most of the hope some may have for state savings accounts (i.e. Probably valued in the $12.5 range today following the $3 billion payment to PERS/TRS). If Alaska burns through savings to subsidize unsustainable operating costs, the only way it can keep 'full faith and credit' with retirees is to dip into the Permanent Fund to satisfy unfunded liabilities. That's why I think all of us reading this blog believe this year is so critical. If big and cooperative decisions are not made to change the trend line now, and absent the appearance of one or more economic miracles, the day of reckoning surely lies just around the corner. With that mission and challenge in mind, one can see the tensions growing (i.e. interests of operating fund constituents vs. state retirees; interests of subsidy beneficiaries vs. taxpayers; interests of today's citizens vs. their childrens' interests; interests of obtaining higher short term taxes from oil, mining, tourism, fishing, etc. companies vs. provding a secure investment climate that invites their investment and job creation over time.) This is why I do not envy the Governor or Legislature or Mayors or Wealth Producers or Government Program Beneficiaries; for 2015 is sure to be a historical transition to a new Alaskan economy. A year from now, it will be interesting for us all to consider these challenges and weigh them against our successes. Hopefully, we will have made our children proud. Dave
|Today, we ponder Alaska's 2015 challenges below -- including less capability to fund energy projects. We also sympathize with our Canadian friends. The Calgary Herald's Deborah Yedling said of TransCanada's Russ Gurling that, "three fronts consume Girling’s time and energy — the Energy East file, an activist shareholder and, of course, the Keystone project."|
Is Alaska beginning a new year of acrimony or accomplishment?
Yesterday's Alaska Dispatch piece by Dermot Cole pretty well summarizes the difficult budget issues and political pressures faced by North America's most economically dependent oil & gas producing state.
As the new year begins, so does the start of what may soon evolve into a contentious, new Legislative session.
Politico by Hillary Flynn.
Alaska runs on oil — its economy is more dependent on it than that of any other state. With no sales or personal income tax, the bulk of state revenue is tied to natural resources.
At the same time, the state woefully misread the direction of oil prices, predicting they would remain at over $100 per barrel for fiscal 2015. They are now below $60.
For now, they are counting on $14 billion in rainy day funds — double those of any other state. But rating agency Moody’s Investors Service, financial analysts and others
NY Times by Manny Fernandez & Jeremy Alford...“The crunch is coming,” said Gunnar Knapp (NGP Photo), a professor of economics and the director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research...."
Washington Post by Niraj Chokshi. ...Alaska, more than any other state, is threatened by the low prices. Moody’s Investors Services, the credit rating agency, on Tuesday revised its outlookfor the state from stable to negative, noting that the drop in oil prices “now threatens to rapidly and significantly reduce the state’s budgetary reserves.”
“Alaska is far more vulnerable than any other U.S. state...."
On January 31, 2012, Governing asked, "Will the good times last?": "High oil prices are a boon for Alaska, whose credit rating recently went up to the coveted triple-A level. But waning oil production, unpredictable prices and looming pension costs remain challenges." (Comment: Politicians ignored the obvious. -dh)
Readers may also track this issue on Alaskans for Sustainable Budgets....
During the session, beginning on January 20, lawmakers and the new governor face an unexpected decline in the value of oil upon which is based about 90% of Alaska's state operating budget.
Constituents -- not just government -- feel the impact, too. Over a third of the entire economy rests upon dependency upon and unstable foundation of volatile, world oil prices. (Note our belief that government dependency on commodity prices is more dangerous than private economic dependence on commodity production. The former typically makes up for lost taxes by increasing taxes -- further inhibiting economic investment and vitality -- while the latter makes up for diminishing revenue by undertaking efficiency measures.)
Soon, one can expect rating agencies to begin auditing state and local governments, along with publicly traded companies in Alaska. Financial analysts throughout the investment world are preparing new reports for their clients. Agencies of government dependent on revenue bonds and general obligation bonds -- at certain, low interest rates and favorable 'coverage' requirements -- will be under increased scrutiny that could affect consumer costs in a number of areas, including state capital projects, municipal services and monthly utility rates.
Alaska's multi-billion dollar deficit overshadows losses occurring in all other oil and gas producing states and provinces in North America, which could stimulate rising political acrimony.
Elected officials, as we have seen nationally and locally, tend to err on the side of overspending.
National overspending leads to printing fiat paper dollars that taxes citizens by ultimately devaluing their money as prices rise. State and federal overspending causes overtaxing temptations. Both overspending and overtaxing in local governments tax the future of citizens as politicians strive to fund today's wants.
Unlike Washington, local governments cannot create new money out of thin air. They must collect it in direct taxes or by borrowing it and agreeing to pay lenders interest rates influenced by rating agencies, upon whose expertise investors must rely.
Alaska is seeing the confluence of these issues today as its unsustainably high budget -- the highest per capita in America, twice as high as US federal per capita spending -- is under attack by low oil prices. This income deficiency leads to higher deficits, a rapid depletion of government savings accounts, and a sure-fire appointment with insolvency.
Will Alaska leaders this year create new taxes, cut spending or kick the can down the road again, bringing savings accounts down to new lows? Or, more likely, will they try to create a combination of the above?
The republican-led legislature, with the former Governor, passed legislation to reform and moderate one of the most onerous oil tax regimes in the free world. Added to Alaska's tax disincentive to invest are Alaska's high labor rates, difficult climate, proximity to markets and logistical handicaps. The objective of the tax reform, adopted under provisions of Senate Bill 21 (i.e. SB 21) was to increase investment leading to higher production over time and a more sustainable fiscal regime. Unfortunately, not much was done to moderate spending, contrary to the suggestions of a state university think tank, the Institute of Social and Economic research (ISER).
Some democrats, though out-voted on SB 21 tax reform, decided to work with activist environmental and other constituencies to promote a voters initiative that would do an end-run around legislative action, and repeal oil tax reform. Last August, they came close, but lost as voters narrowly decided to stay with tax reform.
Obviously, any enthusiasm investors had for SB 21 tax reform and political stability in the 49th State had to have been diluted by efforts to repeal that reform.
Today, investors must be left with a troubling 4-fold reality that:
1) While oil tax reform passed and survived an Alaska voter's repeal initiative, a new initiative could reappear any day; and
2) Alaska's long-term sustainability depends on the unlikely ability of politicians to cut generous state entitlement programs, not just a few capital projects; and,
3) Alaska's state employee retirement program's unfunded liability of almost $10 billion pretty much cancels out the value of its "rainy day savings accounts". We believe this leaves the State morally--if not technically--incapable of subsidizing the operating budget without tapping the sacrosanct, $50+ billion permanent fund, which, itself, is not the answer to a sustainable government; and,
4) even if those thorny problems are solved, Alaska's wonderful natural resource investment potential still faces volatile natural resource prices and worldwide competition from areas with lower labor rates, more temperate climates, closer proximity to markets and simpler logistical challenges.
Now, Alaska has a new Governor, Bill Walker (NGP Photo-L), who opposed SB 21 tax reform and courted democrat constituencies to win the election against republican incumbent Governor Sean Parnell (NGP Photo-R). Of course, we wish Walker well, but we also realize the difficult policy decisions he must surely see in the path before him.
The ADN news/editorial piece yesterday highlights what could be a coming year of acrimony absent an abundance of courtesy, good-will and recognition of the common challenge we all face.
The piece quotes some who contend that those supporting SB 21, Alaska's oil tax reform law, misled the public. Any Alaskan who trumpets blame undermines cooperation and defies the public interest. The piece also quotes SB 21 advocates who point out that the passage of tax reform takes time to manifest itself into multi-year, multi-billion dollar investment decisions and new projects. (Critique: A reader in another blog later pointed out that to understand the source of the problem we should discuss 'fault'; and, I admitted that I could have been more clear. My point was not to stifle free speech or honest critique but rather, "in this critical year we should focus on cooperative solutions rather than who did what to whom in the past. While investing our full energy to find solutions now and throughout 2015, we should distinguish between actors seeking personal gain from those seeking the best outcome for all Alaskans." -dh)
What's The Answer?
Our first hope is that other oil producing states/provinces will learn from Alaska that a sustainable economy is, first, difficult but, second, possible. (Subscribe to Petroleum News Bakken)
It is difficult because officials elected by human beings tend to want to promise and deliver more than they should. But sustainable oil economies are possible when the voters demand responsibility.
Spending could be limited by a constitutional mandate using an effective population, CPI formula with a savings requirement and an emergency spending provision. Spending could also be restrained if contitutional reform limited industry sector tax revenues to some per capita or operating budget percent limit...again, with reasonable savings and emergency spending provisions.
If government signals investors that it is committed to a reliable, capped amount of tax revenue from various tax-vulnerable industry sectors, tax paying investors can more freely invest with a reasonable guarantee of long-term returns.
The primary beneficiaries of responsible government policies, the citizens, may then have confidence that their own taxes, jobs, reasonable but restrained government programs and economic dreams can be sustained with honest, hard work.
Some Alaskans may hold out hope that the state's ponderous, per-capita government could survive by virtue of a quick reversal of oil prices. But there is a problem with that hope. The fundamental problem is that even with last spring's higher prices, Alaska's oil-dependent operating budget still needed billions from savings when that budget was based on $105/Bbl oil.
So what is Alaska's current, best hope for a sustainable economy? That's the job of elected officials. That's why they were elected. Do we see among them public spirited, dedicated, unselfish, peace makers who will work cooperatively with each other to solve a common problem? Or, will we see them take up arms and seek to use the state's economic problems to leverage political self interests as a fragile economy crumbles?
We offer for our readers' consideration a possible solution, a concept, in the box to the left. But, as with all great undertakings, the outcome depends on the integrity, courage, creativity and diligence of real leaders -- which points to this wise counsel of old:
Matthew 7:15. "Beware of false profits, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. ... Therefore, by their fruits you will know them."
Amen, dear reader....
TODAY'S Houston Chronicle Energy Stories:
Alaska Journal of Commerce by Tim Bradner (NGP Photo-L).
Gov. Bill Walker (NGP Photo, above) and his new administration are still settling in as state legislators are packing up to head to Juneau for the 2015 session.
The annual political poker game begins Jan. 20 when the state Legislature convenes.
Walker will be at the table. So will House Speaker Mike Chenault (NGP Photo-Far R); Senate President Kevin Meyer (NGP Photo-R); House Democratic Minority Leader Chris Tuck (NGP Photo-R); and Senate Democratic Minority Leader Berta Gardner (NGP Photo).
Alaska Dispatch/AP by James MacPherson.
Forget South Dakota. North Dakota's most similar sister state these days is some 2,000 miles away.
Alaska and North Dakota — which once had little more in common than wintry weather and elbow room — have for the past several years been locked in a state sibling rivalry ....
"It shocks me how much we have in common with Alaska, and it's not just the cold," said Kevin Iverson, manager of ....
North Dakota is bettering Alaska on crude production and the number of residents now.... The United States' unlikely economic darling that is North Dakota comes in contrast to slipping crude production on The Last Frontier.
...North Dakota recaptured the 47th most populous state from Alaska, which .... North Dakota had an estimated 739,482 residents in 2014, up more ....
Alaska lost more than .... (Read more)
HAPPY NEW YEAR, BUT NOT TOO HAPPY!
(PUBLIC SERVICE MESSAGE: WHY SOME OF OUR GENTLE READERS HAVE CHOSEN ABSTINENCE OVER 'FUN')
New Year's Eve Energy Links Courtesy of Consumer Energy Alliance
Calgary Herald by Lorraine Hjalte. Beyond pipeline politics and plunging oil prices that dominated Calgary business news in 2014, our annual quiz tests your recollection of other notable events from the past year. Take our quiz here!
2014 Energy Review!
Globe & Mail. Energy is serious business, and in 2014 ... serious stories.
... shortest booms on record, oilmen took shots at one another ... survival mode ... cartel tired of being the world’s oil-price .... Read more....
Op-ed, ADN, by Clem Tillion (NGP Photo File, Talkeetna, 9-06). For those of us who live by the sea, a drop in the price of oil is a joy indeed. I doubt if our Saudi allies and the rest of OPEC are going to not take action as oil reaches $50 a barrel, but for those of us who remember the price a decade ago when I could fill the old Stormbird's tanks for $800 -- last year, filling the same tanks cost $5,200, and last month it came down to $4,881.
CBC. Finance Minister Joe Oliver says he is concerned that divisions within Canada over the energy sector will eventually hold back the country’s growth. In a year-end interview for The Exchange with Amanda Lang, Oliver cited opposition to fracking and to pipelines in some provinces as potential points of conflict.
January 9, 2015
New Year's Eve Energy Links Courtesy of Consumer Energy Alliance
Midland Reporter-Telegram: Energy revolution’s’ energy tops 2014 energy news *David Holt Op-Ed
This year the news has been full of good news and bad news for U.S. energy consumers. Major policy decisions (or lack thereof), changes in technology and emerging market forces have all played a role in influencing this year's cheers and jeers in U.S. energy news.
BuildKXLNow.org: Re-Gifting False Carbon Claims on Keystone XL
This week pipeline critics are championing “new” evidence that Keystone XL will lead to carbon Armageddon. Notwithstanding abundant evidence to the contrary, a handful of anti-Keystone XL organizations presented President Obama with a memo that purports to shed new light on the carbon saga. Unfortunately, the report argues the same unsupported claims – just with a little new packaging.
The Hill: Top five stories: Energy and environment
It was a busy year on the energy and environment front, from another delay in the review of the Keystone XL pipeline to President Obama unveiling his controversial climate regulations for power plants.
Reuters: Obama move on U.S. oil exports paves way for Canadian crude, too
As the Obama administration issued landmark guidelines expected to open the door for selling more domestic shale oil abroad, it also likely smoothed the way for more Canadian crude to be shipped through U.S. ports.
Bloomberg Businessweek: Crude Exports Clarified in Commerce Department Guidelines
The Obama administration opened the door for expanded oil exports by saying a lightly processed form of crude known as condensate can be sold outside the U.S. without government approval.
UPI: House vows to deliver on energy promises
House Republicans will work to create the "architecture of abundance" needed to take advantage of North American energy leadership, a lawmaker said.
The Hill: Senate panel sets hearing on Keystone XL
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline next week. The hearing, announced Tuesday, will be the first one held by new chairwoman Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Platts: US crude pipeline buildout pace to slow amid lower oil prices
It may be too soon to assess the total impact of falling global crude oil prices on the US oil patch, but the lower price will likely slow the recent fast pace of pipeline buildouts and focus attention on regions where the production plays are most economic.
Wall Street Journal: Oil Prices Hit Again by Weak China Data
The rout in oil markets continued into the last day of the year as weaker Chinese economic data and a buildup in U.S. crude stockpiles fueled the bearish sentiment that drove prices off a cliff in 2014. The selloff that started midsummer wiped off nearly half of oil’s value amid growing concerns of global oversupply coupled with lackluster demand. Oil prices are set for their biggest annual loss since the recession in 2008.
Reuters: Oil price crash claims first U.S. LNG project
Excelerate Energy’s Texan liquefied natural gas terminal plan has become the first victim of an oil price slump threatening the economics of U.S. LNG export projects. A halving in the oil price since June has upended assumptions by developers that cheap U.S. LNG would muscle into high-value Asian energy markets, which relied on oil prices staying high to make the U.S. supply affordable.
Bismarck Tribune: Prices bring uncertainty to oil patch
As oil prices have decreased, conversations on what it might mean to the state have done exactly the opposite. The newest oil boom that has enveloped western North Dakota has meant new jobs, rising state tax revenues, some definite growing pains and now, a level of uncertainty.
Associated Press: No proof gas drilling tainted well water
A federal judge has ruled against nine southern New York homeowners who claimed their drinking water was contaminated by a nearby natural gas well. U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa in Rochester decided the homeowners had failed to prove the silt and methane that befouled their water was caused by one of two gas wells drilled a half mile from their homes in 2010. The decision was filed on Dec. 17.
NPR: After New York ban, Pennsylvania renews focus on shale health impacts
At a news conference the day after New York announced its ban, Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor-elect Tom Wolf summed up his views on fracking: “I want to have my cake and eat it, too,” he said. “I don’t want to do what New York did.” Wolf wants a new tax on drilling to pay for a lot of his priorities like education. He also wants to create a health registry to measure potential impacts of heavy drilling. “In the absence of a strong concern for health, you have problems,” he said. “I think we ought to do this right.”
Associated Press: Ohio gas prices hit 5-year low
The average cost of gas in Ohio has dipped below $2 per gallon for the first time in more than five years. The average for a gallon of regular gas fell to $1.99 in Wednesday'ssurvey from auto club AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and WEX Inc. Ohio AAA spokeswoman Kimberly Schwind says that average hasn't been below $2 since April 28, 2009, when it was $1.98. She says back then, the recession was a key factor.
WCBE 90.5 FM: Changes To Severance Tax Derailed This Year
Raising the severance tax on oil and gas drillers has been a major issue in Ohio. Just when it seemed like policymakers were poised to take a big step towards a change -- other issues got in the way. Andy Chow examines the 2014 stalemate in the severance tax debate.
Star-Telegram: Will Texas reel from oil price drop?
Let’s face it: Texas has let itself get over-confident, for what must be at least the millionth time, about its oil and gas wealth. World markets are showing us, for the equally millionth time, how risky that is. Fortunately, our state’s economy is more diversified than it has been in previous energy declines. The current drop probably won’t hurt as bad as, say, the similar declines in 1985-86 and 1990-91. But the current declines are severe, especially for oil, and they will hurt.
Dallas Business Journal: State seismologist looking into quakes near Texas Stadium site
The former Texas Stadium site felt another earthquake Tuesday morning, the fifth such temblor recorded in Irving this December, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Speculation has run rampant that there's a link between the disposal of fracking fluids into injection wells and an increase in seismic activity. The Texas Railroad Commission hired Seismologist Craig Pearson to investigate whether manmade activity could trigger or induce earthquakes.
Houston Chronicle: Oil field lodging company pares jobs
An oil field lodging company's job cuts in North America are the latest harbinger of a downturn and fewer inhabitants in the Texas and North Dakota oil patches. On Monday, Houston-based Civeo Corp. said it has trimmed its U.S. workforce by 45 percent and slashed its Canadian jobs by 30 percent because it expects its oil field "man camps" to see far fewer occupants in the new world of lower oil prices. It said it will cut spending plans around 70 percent.
Blue Mountain Eagle: Commission set to vote on low-carbon fuel standard
Democrats in the Oregon legislature want to make a low-carbon fuel standard permanent, but critics say it will increase the price of fuel and will be difficult to implement.
Our Commentary: "Enlightened Self Interest vs. the Public Interest: Is Global Warming and Ocean Acidification Science Reliable" is being rescheduled. -dh
Juneau Empire Editorial: Thumbs up to fulfilling promises. On Friday, Gov. Bill Walker (NGP Photo) issued an administrative order to halt work on six of Alaska’s biggest construction projects. During his campaign for governor, Walker promised to cut “unnecessary” studies as a way to reduce the state’s expenses. As most of those six projects are still in the study phase, we shouldn’t be surprised that Walker is considering them for the chopping block. We might believe those projects are still worthwhile, but we should give credit where credit is due — Walker is doing nothing less than fulfilling a campaign promise. Background.
|Petroleum News by Gary Park.
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice (NGP Photo) is applying a form of water torture by delivering the grim news in a steady trickle.
In preparing Albertans for a round of harsh spending cuts and possibly the unthinkable - higher taxes - he has estimated his government faces a revenue shortfall of C$16.2 billion in the next three fiscal years unless there is a dramatic recovery in oil prices.
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