ON THE ROAD AGAIN – One of The RIDE buses goes down Katlian Street past the city boat grid this morning. After four months of being shut down because of antivirus precautions, the public transportation service resumed operations today. All routes remain the same except the Blue Line bus route, which now turns around at Whale Park instead of the Gary Paxton Industrial Park. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

BLM Cuts Royalty Rate For Oil, Gas Companies

By MATTHEW BROWN 

The Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Trump administration has started giving energy companies temporary breaks on royalties and rent they pay to extract oil and gas from leases on public lands because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The move drew quick criticism as a handout to industry that will mean less money for state governments. A Democratic lawmaker called for an investigation into whether the breaks were justified.

Government data shows companies in Utah receiving steep cuts in the standard 12.5% royalty rate, to as low as 2.5% of the value of the oil and gas they produce. More reductions are expected in the coming days in other states with oil and gas activity on federal lands, primarily in the western U.S.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management said last month that royalty-rate cuts were possible if companies could show they could not successfully operate public energy leases economically or can’t maintain enough employees at drilling sites.

Half the money that comes in through royalty payments is typically disbursed to the states where the oil or gas was extracted. The payments totaled $2.9 billion nationwide in 2019, including $94 million in Utah. 

The rate cuts in Utah included 76 leases on tens of thousands of acres of public lands. 

In a related action in recent days, bureau officials in 85 cases suspended rent payments that companies pay on their oil and gas leases on federal lands, according to government data. The suspensions to date have all been in Wyoming and were linked by agency officials to the pandemic. 

Other states with federal oil and gas leases that generate significant amounts of revenue include New Mexico, North Dakota, California, Colorado, Alaska and Montana.

All royalty relief will be temporary and last a maximum of 60 days, Bureau of Land Management spokesman Chris Tollefson said. Some elected officials and organizations had called for blanket relief for the industry, he said. But the Interior Department rejected those requests and determined each leaseholder must follow the longstanding process for obtaining relief.

“These laws and regulations have existed for decades and across multiple administrations,” Tollefson said. “No special circumstances have been granted.”

But critics of the administration jumped on the cuts. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate if they were necessary and properly handled, and how much they could cost in lost revenues.

“I am concerned that in its haste to approve huge numbers of royalty cuts, BLM (the Bureau of Land Management) may not be fully following the requirements in the regulation,” Grijalva wrote.

The government has broad authority to grant royalty reductions for both onshore and offshore oil and gas activity provided companies meet its criteria, said American Petroleum Institute vice president Lem Smith. 

He said the organization backs the process for granting companies relief as long as it is “equitable, transparent and easily understood” and added that it’s traditionally been done on a case-by-case basis.

A National Wildlife Federation representative called the rate cuts a “sweetheart deal” benefiting fossil fuel companies even as the administration seeks more money from renewable energy companies that rent federal lands.

“It is simply not fair and is one more signal that oil and gas drilling takes precedence over everything else on our public lands,” National Wildlife Federation Vice President Tracy Stone-Manning said. 

How much value the relief will have for companies is not known. It will depend on the amount of fuel they extract and how many relief applications are granted going forward. 

Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue, which collects the royalties from companies, does not do future projections, spokesman Chris Mentasti said.

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Follow Matthew Brown at  @matthewbrownap

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-13-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 10:30 a.m. Monday.

New cases as of Sunday: 60

Total statewide – 1,539

Total (cumulative) deaths – 17

Active cases in Sitka – 4 (2 resident; 2 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 14 (11 resident; 3 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 87.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

* These numbers reflect State of Alaska data. Local cases may not immediately appear on DHSS site, or are reported on patient’s town of residence rather than Sitka’s statistics. 

 

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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