Beware of Pebble and Oil propaganda
Point of View
Alaskans dodged the bullet of moving revenues from our treasury to the bonus checks of Big Oil’s lawyers and lobbyists this year, but you had better believe they will be back. The Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s Executive Director Kara Moriarty promised that they would be back after the collapse of the governor’s special session. Big Oil — and by this term I mean the legacy companies Exxon, BP and ConocoPhillips — have the deepest of pockets to spread their propaganda that somehow Alaska, where they earn 2.5 times the revenue per barrel for oil in Alaska as they do in the Lower 48, is somehow “uncompetitive.” An amusing sideshow is the apparent cloning of messaging that has recently taken place between Big Oil’s propaganda and that of Pebble Mine. I wonder if they are splitting the cost of the same ad agency?
The Pebble Partnership has deployed a new ad which closes a circle many Alaskans have noticed: the close knit relationship between the pro-Pebble lobby and the pro-oil tax giveback lobby called Make Alaska Competitive Coalition.
First, Alaskans have noticed the recycled personalities on the Pebble and oil company ads. We see former Speaker Gail Philips calling on Pebble critics to tone it down a notch, recognize that Alaska has strict regulatory oversight and inviting Alaskans to have a “factual conversation” about the project (tinyurl.com/cnoymso). Then Alaskans see Speaker Philips making the rounds wearing her Make Alaska Competitive Coalition hat, warning us darkly about declining oil production (tinyurl.com/7wenjpe).
Last December, Philips got caught by Fairbanks journalist Dermot Cole spreading an untruth about a “federal requirement that would shut down the pipeline when throughput reaches 400,000 barrels per day” (tinyurl.com/bl56mx7). The MACC’s Anchorage PR firm, MSI Communications, was forced to correct the statement by Speaker Philips stating that, in fact, that there was no such federal requirement (tinyurl.com/7v9j9j8).
In addition to Phillips, Alaskans have been treated to many moments with former University President Mark Hamilton looking at the camera and, with stentorian tones, cautioning us Alaskans to be “reasonable” about the Pebble Project (tinyurl.com/7fafuyo). Then Alaskans see Mark Hamilton up in Fairbanks delivering MACC talking points to the Chamber of Commerce (tinyurl.com/6vhu5ve).
Clearly Pebble and the MACC share a narrow branding vision.
Comes now a new ad in which the Pebble Partnership steps up its game by joining itself at the hip with the oil industry (tinyurl.com/cdhovjz). The ad attacks its critics as the same ilk that opposed the Trans Alaska Pipeline back in the day. The narrator practically hyperventilates as he extols the virtues of the “greatest engineering feat in history” and concludes that the pipeline proves Alaskans can do a project right!
This new, negatively political Pebble ad inspired me to remember a few things about the origins of the Trans Alaska Pipeline that are quite different than the self-serving revisionist history cobbled together by the Pebble Partnership.
First, the original pipeline plans that were proposed in 1969 and submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior for approval were practically written on the back of a napkin. The plan was for an 800-mile buried pipeline; the alignments and “design” totaled about 20 pages!
Dr. Max Brewer who was the head of CRRL (Cold Region Research Lab) looked at the plan and laughed. He declared the plan for a hot crude pipeline buried in the permafrost untenable and he said it would be an environmental and economic disaster if implemented. Fortunately for Alaska, the National Environmental Policy Act was signed into law on Jan. 1, 1970 and the oil companies were forced to do some actual engineering.
It is also important to note that the original pipeline project was no friend of the Alaska Native. The companies sought to bypass the Udall land freeze that was put in place to force the settlement of Native claims. The oil companies flew to each corridor village and got waivers for any future claims in exchange for certain promises that were not kept. The bad faith of the oil companies became evident when contracts were let for the haul road that Interior Secretary Hickel permitted. There was no communication between the pipeline company and the villages, and the construction companies ignored them.
So environmentalists and Native groups coalesced to stop the project. It took a couple of years for the engineering and environmental work to get completed and, by then, the passage of ANCSA had become a reality.
So the real history lesson is that the oil companies were dragged kicking and screaming to design an “engineering marvel” when litigation that gave rise to those regulations and field standards that forced the companies to do the right thing.
Alaskans will be hearing a lot of disinformation from the oil industry AND the Pebble Partnership in the weeks and months ahead. When one of those ads comes on, try this: think the exact opposite of what they are saying and I guarantee that you will be more right than wrong.
Please send your comments on this to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.