Comments about the $5.6 billion sale of BP’s assets to Hilcorp will squeak in before today’s 5 p.m. deadline. The Regulatory Commission of Alaska has already heard from hundreds of Alaskans and will also hear from the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Last night the Assembly authorized a resolution for the administration to comment about the BP-Hilcorp sale.
Citizen testimony at last night’s borough assembly meeting was both satisfied and skeptical about the Houston-based independent producer Hilcorp taking over BP’s interest in the trans-Alaska oil pipeline along with two pipelines on the North Slope.
Phillip Wight has written his doctoral dissertation on the history of the pipeline system.
“This is not a private business transaction. This is fundamentally concerned with the public interest – we are talking about moving our public oil through our lands and our waters.”
He wanted to know that the oil company has the financial ability to deal with a major oil spill.
“And when you have a much smaller company, Hilcorp, coming in and taking over BP’s assets, it is really unclear if they have the assets to cover their liabilities.”
Tristan Glowa (Glow-vah) was concerned that because Hilcorp is privately-owned, it has asked the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to keep its financial statements confidential.
“It’s a once in a generation happening that ownership in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System would change hands. When I saw that BP was selling its ownership to an LLC, rather than another publicly-traded multi-national corporation, it was a bit worrying, right?”
Hilcorp would manage a 48.44% share of the aging trans-Alaska oil pipeline, which sits on property in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and is the borough’s largest property taxpayer.
The resolution was written by Borough Mayor Bryce Ward. Language in it asked for transparency in deal, and for a charter that governs how Hilcorp would operate in Alaska. Others, like Mike Prax, wanted any comments the borough might make to the RCA to be friendly and welcoming.
“Its just not an impression that the borough wants to convey to a business coming in. And we don’t want to convey a message of suspicion or mistrust.”
A substitute proposal was written by Assembly member Frank Tomaszewski (Tom-ah-SHEV-ski) because he also thought the tone of the original was not friendly to businesses.
“This transfer is going to happen. I think it is in the best interest of Fairbanks and the borough to come with a tone to this company and be more positive and welcoming.”
But member Leah Berman-Williams thought the substitute was missing the financial capacity clause that would hold the company accountable for an oil spill, as well as protections for Alaska workers.
“I’m not supportive because it doesn’t convey the important concerns of the community.”
Participating in the meeting by telephone, member Mindy O’Neall agreed.
“We are the stewards of the public interest, we are not the friendly police. This resolution is saying, ‘trust, but verify’.”
But in an effort to soften the tone, member Marna Sanford amended the resolution to remove both the financial accountability clause, and reference requiring a governing charter.
After many amendments, the resolution still asked for a transparent process and a demonstration that Hilcorp would operate safe and responsibly.
Mayor Bryce Ward says he will use the resolution itself as the borough’s comments to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.