Lawsuit over polar bear protections announced

An environmental group announced this week it plans to sue the Interior Department over an oil and gas project planned in habitat of the polar bear. This 2007 image shows a polar bear sow and her cub in the Arctic. 

Alaska’s natural resources are making news, as a national environmental group moves to file a lawsuit over polar bear protections amid an oil drilling project.

A national fish supplier has announced a brand campaign to promote wild-caught Alaska pollock as a mild-tasting, nutritious seafood often overlooked by consumers.

And coal production posted strong growth this year, with global demand for the fossil fuel increasing more than 6% as economies re-opened after the 2020 pandemic.

There’s more in “Five Things to Know.”

Polar bears vs. Arctic oil

The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a notice that it intends to sue the U.S. Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management over polar bear protections in the Arctic. The center alleges that activities from an oil and gas project threaten polar bears, an endangered species.

“Biden should be phasing out oil and gas activity in the Arctic, not flouting key environmental laws to let oil companies search and drill for more oil,” said attorney Kristen Monsell, who represents the center.

The center’s challenge focuses on the 88 Peregrine oil and gas project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

“The Trump administration approved the project just before leaving office, but the company needs the Biden administration’s approval to drill any new wells,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The project involves near constant air and vehicle traffic, road building and air strip development, and other drilling-related activity, the center said.

“Noise pollution from these activities can stop polar bears from feeding, disrupt their movements or scare mothers and cubs from their dens. The project will also increase the greenhouse gas emissions driving the species toward extinction,” the center said.

Pollock vs. salmon

Wild-caught Alaska pollock does not have the popular appeal of Alaska salmon. A U.S. fish supplier wants to change that.

Aquamar of California is “embarking on a brand overhaul” of the humble pollock to tout its benefits for consumers. Pollock is a seafood with a mild flavor and light texture. It also is nutritious, a source of lean protein and omega-3s that help maintain a healthy heart and body.

Aquamar is investing in a brand campaign to tout wild-caught Alaskan pollock, which costs less and has fewer calories than many other seafoods.

Coal in the holiday stocking

Coal production is on track to hit an all-time high, according to the energy news website Oil.com. A demand surge for coal in 2021 is linked to the post-pandemic global economy.

In Alaska, the Usibelli family owns the only operating coal mine in the state, which produces more than a million tons per year. The company supplies to several Interior power plants and exports the fossil fuel.

Global coal production in 2021 is projected to rise by more than 6% over 2020.

But concerns have been raised about the coal production spike and its impact on the environment, including by the International Energy Authority.

IEA Director Faith Birol said: “Coal is the single largest source of global carbon emissions, and this year’s historically high level of coal power generation is a worrying sign of how far off track the world is in its efforts to put emissions into decline towards net zero.”

Oil’s bull run?

ConocoPhillips, Alaska’s largest crude oil producer, is now trading above pre-pandemic levels and energizing Wall Street investors.

ConocoPhillips is one of the industry’s largest “pure-play” companies, meaning it has a singular focus on oil and gas development, while other companies have diversified.

ConocoPhillips generated $2.4 billion in third-quarter earnings, and is gushing with a strong cash flow, analysts say. Seeking Alpha, the energy news service, reports that the company is “making opportunistic acquisitions and chasing substantial growth.”

The oil giant recently announced 2022 drilling plans at an undeveloped Alaska oil deposit called Narwahl. ConocoPhillips also is proceeding with development plans for the Alaska Willow project, which is at the center of a court challenge by conservation and tribal groups.

Vincent Lelarge, a ConocoPhillips Alaska manager, told the Resource Development Council that the legal dispute has not dampened the company’s enthusiasm for the project.

ConocoPhillips is continuing with a cost analysis and engineering planning. The company is expected make a final decision in 2022.

Fairbanks airport funds take off

Fairbanks International Airport is eligible to receive close to $4 million in federal funds through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for fiscal 2022.

A total of $80 million is winging its way to Alaska’s 235 airports for improvements to runways, taxiways, terminals and roads, among other projects.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has given us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build safer and more sustainable airports that connect individuals to jobs and communities to the world,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Under the terms of the funding, Alaska airports can submit project requests, which the Federal Aviation Administration will review. The FAA will prioritize projects that emphasize “safety, equity and sustainability.”

So how does the Fairbanks airport plan to use the funds?

Airport officials said this week that the dollars will be used for two passenger boarding bridges at the terminal, or for a General Aviation apron and Taxiway reconstruction project.

The passenger bridges connect the terminal building to the airplane. Plans are to replace existing bridges at the terminal.

The Taxiway reconstruction project involves rebuilding some of the taxiways associated with the General Aviation apron on the east side of the airport.

Airport officials say they expect to receive additional funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law through 2026, at amounts similar to funds available for fiscal 2022.

Contact Linda F. Hersey at 907-459-7575 or at lhersey@newsminer.com. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.

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