Exxon takes a risen position


As an investment, Exxon Mobile’s current dividend yield is one of the strongest in the nation right now- and that is not just considering energy related companies.  It joins the other four largest energy corporations (BP, Chevron, Shell, and Total) to post their highest first-quarter net income since 2014. They have migrated from being labelled as under performing to what is known as market perform – a desirable status for trading.

Most of Alaska’s contemporary oil resources are accessed by companies other than Exxon, and while the smiling lion logo stands out in many people’s minds, Exxon is best known in Alaska for its involvement in transporting US crude out of the state and down to refineries in the lower 48.  Its name was in the middle of Alaskan headlines in 1989 Prince William Sound oil spill when one of its tankers spilled around 11 million gallons. (Currently it is in the headlines of news in Colorado as several counties sue Exxon -with Suncor- over climate change).

Yet transportation and drilling are not the sole, or even the main business of Exxon.  In fact, they operate refineries, produce petroleum based additives and even work in the natural gas markets.  Thus the increase of oil prices in general  touch the revenues of each of Exxon’s products and services.  With a diversified portfolio of products and services and upgrade in trading status Exxon will be one company to keep an eye on as crude prices continue to climb.





The end of the (pipe) line


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While promoting radon testing in Copper River Valley and Prince William Sound this week a couple of items came up about the energy terminal in Valdez.  There was talk of dismay over somewhat recent Alaskan politics that had failed to bring a natural gas line terminal to Valdez.  With Pt. McKenzie outside of Wasilla being the major competitor to support a loading terminal for exporting natural gas out of the state, it was seen as a loss for Copper River, Valdez and even Fairbanks (in terms of cheap energy available).

In reference to the existing petroleum terminal in Valdez, there was a recent article from Alaska Public news highlighting the incessant cyber attacks that are made on that operation.  With no major incident yet, over 22 million intrusion events happen daily which the Alyeska terminal’s information technology people have to deal with. While all are not nefarious and are as simple as phishing scams by email to get information from employees, others that are detected are from hackers to infiltrate the system. Though in the past it has been human attacks on the physical pipeline and natural disasters disrupting operations that have been the primary concerns, cyberattacks is now right up there as a danger to disrupt flow of the oil or cause an environmental disaster (accompanied by loss of life).

The other news down at the terminal is that things are abuzz with changes in personnel and freshly built ships and equipment coming in as Crowley no longer will be the escort company overseeing transportation of the oil by sea once it exits the pipeline.  Rather that mantle has been handed over to Edison Chouest Offshore which is committed to building nine new tugs and three oil spill response vessels.  Crowley had held the contract since immediately after Valdez oil spill almost 3 decades ago when federal legislation was written to require oil tankers to have tug escorts. With changes afoot, Prince William Sound continues to be a major player, and prove itself as an innovator, when it comes to Alaskan Energy exports.


Health fairs kick off in SC and Interior Alaska


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I had a table at the first Alaska Health Fair and what a variety of topics were present.  Blood testing, an essential oil information, mental health non-profits, State of Alaska Homeland Security all had tables.  Healthy homes topical publications (carbon monoxide, energy efficiency, safe space heating, preparing your home for disasters, preparing mobile homes for winter, etc…)  topped the Cooperative Extension  table along with Alaska Center for Energy and Power items.  The centerpiece however was radon.

I was impressed in talking with passers 1) how many didn’t realize there was still an Anchorage office -and were excited to hear, 2) the number who knew about radon yet who had not tested their current homes!  Once describing the lung cancer problems associated with radon exposure (the second cause only next to tobacco smoke), many visibly were effected.  With the sheer financial consideration of a ~$30 test letting you know if you should spend several hours of sweat equity and materials to keep radon out it seems like testing would be more pronounced; compared to the cost of one visit to the oncologist.

I’m glad to get the word out about radon at health fairs (or shows like the geologically based one last month). With a EPA grant to create a state database for Department of Health I’ve been also taking the opportunity to make contacts at the show to supply kits and expertise so that we can use the data to load this first of a kind information storage.

There is most likely a health fair this spring in a community near yours- if not in yours!  If you go see if I have a table, or one of our partners such as American Lung Association of Alaska or the Department of Natural Resources.  And be sure above all to make arrangements with us to test your home if it hasn’t been done recently.



Alaska Forum for the Environment


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Last week Extension had a booth at the Alaska Forum for the Environment.  We were getting information about radon, as well as offering new Alaska Center for Energy and Power research briefs that have recently been released!  Many tribes were present and it was good to communicate with the EPA funded General Assistance Program (IGAP) workers about the extra resources we have for radon funding this year.   Many signed up and we’ll be testing homes, tribal buildings and community dwellings for radioactivity with the connections made.

Also important was the presentation with myself and UAF College of Mines professor Debu Misra on the advantages of utilizing biochar for growing better yields, removing trace heavy metals from waters used in mining as well as giving greater efficiencies to ground cover vegetation put onto mining lands during reclamation.  (An UAA professor collaborated afterward toward funding we’ll seek for better biochar research).  You may have missed public workshops given on home modifications per aging in place, remote energy solutions as well as on radon yet keep an open eye as the intention is to teach such classes in Anchorage again!

The direction of oil….


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We are at a point this week where Brent crude oil was almost $70 a barrel.  The last time is was this high was December of 2014.  At that time it was on a downward slide from $113 dollars a barrel six months earlier.  (The current $70 price spot is the result of a trending climb from a low almost two years ago of $28 a barrel).   Our state revenue has had structural difficulties in regards to oil output, revenue rates, outside pricing influences and all yet this latest uptick in prices as well as policy changes that look promising for oil development in the state has some producers gearing up their activity.

Last week ConocoPhillips announced they are thinking that almost a half million of  barrels (daily) could be sent down the Pipeline System into the 2020’s, adding to the current half million barrels flowing daily.  That is with known fields that can be tapped, not including off shore north slope reserves. As often happens, other small less well known companies are mobilizing as well.  They represent different phases of getting oil out and down the pipeline, yet one thing is for sure- market and political forces are motivating companies for more oil development in Alaska.

It’s cold, but….


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With an overnight low in the Interior getting to -30 many residents seem to have gotten acclimatized to the fall style of weather we’ve had most of the winter; forgotten are the days of  several weeks of evening weather getting down to -40 or -50.  From a practical view, this warmer winter weather has given the traditionally dry Interior of Alaska some challenges.  Though there seems to be plenty of snow cover to protect septic tanks and insulate lines, the frozen rain from a couple weeks ago has been playing havoc on driving and power lines.

With a vehicle pile up of close to a couple dozen vehicles yesterday, it was clear that the frozen rain under the snow of last week is creating a hazard- especially when we start diving into sub-zero temps when any past moisture on the road becomes slick.  With hundreds of people out of power last night (~-25F degrees) it is obvious that the wet, heavy coastal like snow that recently hit has become a liability to the power lines.  Electrical crews from GVEA have been getting hit with repairing several spread out areas of the Borough and power lines go down.  Have you seen the blue flashes in the sky at night the last couple weeks? If so, it may have been several houses or a neighborhood losing power.

With these recent trends in warmer weather it creates hazards when normal winter sets in at small intervals- and so the question is, do you have an emergency supply kit of 7 days of water, lighting, fuel, and various necessary materials ready on hand??

Global warming, cold war?


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Those who have been keeping an eye on the Northern Passage from the Bering Strait to Scandinavia and Northern Europe know that it has been become an economic interest as to who controls the route.  Shipping alone is important, but also access to oil (and rare earth medals) will be a motivator for expanding out from the Northern coastline as the ice melts.  Likewise, the long sought after Northwest Passage that goes from the Bering Strait to Nova Scotia has been tested and should be open for commercial travel in just a bit more than a dozen years.

One of the key instruments for any nation hoping to have a lead role in using the waters of either passage is ice breakers.  The U.S. has less than can be counted on one hand with a couple in the planning/building stages.  (In contrast, the Russians have over 3 dozen).  And while it is the Coast Guard rather than the Navy that has handled these ships, the unprecedented addition to next model will be missiles.  This comes as Russia has increased its fleet of icebreakers and it may be that though there has been general cooperation around important issues such as search and rescue, oil spill recovery and contaminants, ice clearing, etc… this could be a symbol of the frosting of relations between the U.S. and Russia.

Polar amplification….

When looking at the increase of frost free days and the  increases in mean temperatures,  Alaska is warming twice as fast as the rest of the lower 48 states….but why?   To some extent the warming perpetuates itself, so if there is less snow on the ground during the shoulder seasons (March, Sept, Oct) then more of the radiant energy that used to bounce off the snow right back into the atmosphere, will instead be absorbed into the ground and melt more snow.

To a lessening effect, sea ice plays a part.  The ocean itself can be a heat sink when sheets of white sea ice are missing (and cannot reflect solar radiation upward.)  Thus ground cover has an effect to how much of the sun’s radiation bounces off without much effect, and how much is absorbed and thus warming the earth (or reflected back into the atmosphere with the intensity of white being at the poles).  Author of the Alaska Solar Manual, Richard Seifert, found that he could take advantage of solar “bounce” off the snow due to a large patch of land in front of his solar panels being clear of vegetation.  Solar radiation and snow do mix!



Renewables in Alaska

I spoke with someone today who said they wanted to get a solar panel for their 24’x20′ home- because they like solar.  Battery storage, selling kW to the local utility, and using fluids in solar thermal panels were all new and in this case the idea came up when talking about a specific use (which was powering LCD lights).  Individual use is typically a way to augment overall electrical costs for a household.

On the community level, the use of renewables in Alaska varies- largely by region.  The Alaska Energy Authority funded a study by the Alaska Center for Energy and Power which came out last week, and it spells out how wind, solar electric, biomass, and several other energy technologies have been implemented by 100 rural Alaskan communities (generally to augment the cost of producing energy by co-generating with diesel oil generators).

The study looks at the installation, operating and maintenance costs of renewable energy systems.   It is somewhat of a unique set of factors to look when compared to other regions of the U.S.  In Alaska there are dis-segmented  rural small independent power stations that serve anywhere from less than a hundred to a couple thousand households which means that storage and reserves are all that more important of an element.  This needs to be accounted for when tying in various sources of variable, renewable energy.-

New federal assessment quantifies Alaska’s energy resources

A new study has come out with contributions from the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the U.S. Geological Survey stating there may be 50 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in addition to nearly 18 billion barrels of oil.  These recoverable estimates included all different styles of ownership as well as on/off shore deposits; half the gas would be onshore and half of it offshore.

While the assessment was based off in part of estimates associated with certain geological features, the increase from a study just eight years ago can be somewhat contributed to changes in technology which allow for more oil or gas recovery from what is called “undiscovered” reserves.  Geology, statistics and applied engineering all assist in making a North Slope or even Statewide inventory of what can be accessed in 2017.

While industry makes estimates on reserves for purposes of bidding on leases, they may take into account their own rates and amounts based on the technology they utilize and with their own geologists and methods. Often those will be proprietary.  One thing is for sure though- since the U.S. Administration has been looking at a stronger energy dominance in the world markets, Alaska will yet be seen as a energy supply driver going forward.