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Alaska's government: Of Conoco, by Conoco, for Conoco

Every time former Constitutional Delegate and statesman, Vic Fischer, hears the ConocoPhillips’ ad declaring them, “Alaska’s Oil and Gas Company,” he cringes because of the affront the ad makes to our constitutional values. He knows better than any living Alaskan that “utilization, development, and conservation of all natural resources for the maximum benefit of its people” was never intended to maximize the benefit to an oil company in such a way that they could claim to be our company. “We are owners of our natural resources, not shareholders beholden to Outside corporate interests,” asserts Fischer.

As if this wasn’t insulting enough, now we have a situation with Senate Bill 21 where ConocoPhillips has taken over our government. SB 21 is the slightly revised version of Governor Parnell’s oil tax bill that will give highly profitable oil companies an estimated $5 to $6 billion in tax breaks over the next six years in exchange for only the hope that they will increase production on the North Slope. Not one of the three major oil companies, including supposedly “Alaska’s oil and gas company," ConocoPhillips, has made any commitment to increase production. In fact, ConocoPhillips executives told the House Resources Committee that SB 21 is a “positive start,” but it might not be enough.

Since the Senate voted down every amendment that would have linked tax reduction to actual production, SB 21 is correctly labeled a tax giveaway. And who is at the helm, steering this giveaway through the Alaska Legislature? A governor who is a former lobbyist for ConocoPhillips and legislators who either have very close ties with the oil industry or are actual employees of ConocoPhillips.

For a detailed account of how imbedded the oil industry is within the Alaska Legislature, all one need to do is read Pat Forgey’s reports in the Alaska Dispatch. I learned in one of them that the political bedroom goes beyond Senator Micciche and Senator Meyers and extends in the state House, where Representatives Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, and Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, are married to ConocoPhillips employees.

Considering the fact that 1) The push for the oil tax giveaway comes from a governor who used to lobby for ConocoPhillips, 2) SB 21 would not have passed the Senate without two current employees of ConocoPhillips voting for it, and 3) None of the legislators married to employees of ConocoPhillips intend to recuse themselves from voting, it appears that our government has been taken over by ConocoPhillips. ConocoPhillips is not "Alaska’s Oil and Gas Company;" rather, Alaska has become ConocoPhillips’ government.

This is extremely difficult to swallow when we Alaskans, as owners of the resource, have a constitutional right to receive the maximum benefit from the development of our oil and gas resources. So why are we doing this? The answer given by our industry friendly legislators and the governor is to make Alaska more attractive to investment by big oil. However, the facts do not square up with this reported need. For example, in 2009, ConocoPhillips’ operations in Alaska accounted for 12 percent of its worldwide production but 29 percent of its corporate profits. Furthermore, the Aug. 1, 2010, edition of “Petroleum News” examined ConocoPhillips’ 2010 earnings and concluded that “ConocoPhillips’ exploration and production activities continue to be more profitable in Alaska than across the entire Lower 48.” As such, not only is Alaska ConocoPhillips’ government, it is its primary profit center.

Although ConocoPhillips’ ads suggest we are shareholders, we are not. This means that if SB 21 passes the House without any linkage to actual production, Alaskans will be losers on both the front and back end of an estimated $5 to $6 billion giveaway, and will confirm that we no longer have a government working for the people of Alaska.

Next time you hear ConocoPhillips’ ad, you should be cringing right along with Constitutional Delegate Vic Fischer.

Kate Troll is a long-time Alaskan who has more than 22 years of experience in fisheries, coastal and energy policy. She lives in Douglas.

A version of the preceding commentary was first published in the Juneau Empire and is republished here with the author's permission. The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.