Anchor Point fire, emergency service area expands

Voters approved a proposition Tuesday to expand the boundaries of the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Service Area into the Cook Inlet.

As BlueCrest Energy prepares to begin drilling at its development of the Cosmopolitan unit off the coast of Anchor Point, workers will be able to make use of fire and emergency services from the Anchor Point station. In turn, the service area will receive revenue from the inclusion of the offshore drilling monopods.

The idea was initially discussed in 2014, when BlueCrest filed its application to develop the Cosmopolitan field. Although the company plans to conduct most of the drilling from an onshore pad and access the oil through directional drilling, it may install offshore monopods for gas production in the future.

With the monopods likely and workers in and near the Inlet, the fire and emergency service area was willing to provide services if it could collect taxes from the company, said Al Terry, Anchor Point fire chief.

The state taxes oil and gas properties at a flat 20 mills. Local and government taxes will simply be subtracted from that, so the inclusion will not impose any new costs on BlueCrest, according to a memo from assemblyman Brent Johnson, who introduced the expansion.

Anchor Point is currently a blend of volunteer and paid staff, but with the additional revenue and demand for services, there may be more paid positions in the future, Terry said.

“Day-to-day, it probably won’t affect the staffing at all,” Terry said. “Most of my personnel are volunteers, but hopefully in the future, it depends on how the BlueCrest project goes. In the future, it may end up being more paid than volunteer down here.”

The new boundary follows the model of the Nikiski Fire Service Area, which stretches all the way across the Cook Inlet to reach Beluga, Tyonek and all the offshore platforms and rigs between. The Nikiski service area, which was initially established in 1969, has been expanded several times as the platforms multiply in the inlet.

Nikiski largely depends on helicopters to reach any potential patients on offshore platforms, according to Nikiski Fire Chief James Baisden. The companies in the area own helicopters to reach their platforms, so they have struck agreements with the fire service area to allow use of the helicopters in case of emergencies. The service area does own some inflatable rafts that they can deploy from helicoptes, but no large boats, Baisden said.

The Coast Guard is responsible for the waterways, but Nikiski is the closest resource available and time is of the essence in an emergency situation, Baisden said.

“The problem is their location, and time is everything in an emergency, and they’re not going to get here,” Baisden said. “What will happen over time is that as Anchor Point’s assets in the Cook Inlet become larger and they get more platforms, they’re going to have to get those guys out there somehow, so they’ll have to reach the agreements to use the helicopters.”

Baisden said Nikiski could provide help to the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Service Area volunteers and employees if they request it to train them in how to respond to emergencies in the Inlet. However, they do need to work with the company to best reach any offshore platforms, he said.

At the moment, the service area does not intend to purchase boats to serve the Inlet, Terry said. Boat storage on the east side of the Cook Inlet, with storms and tides, could be challenging without proper facilities, he said. Reaching any potential injured worker on the platforms or in the water will have to be a combination of efforts by the responders on shore and either BlueCrest or the Coast Guard, he said.

“If something happens out in the Inlet, it’s an iffy situation anyway, but hopefully we can get the Coast Guard close enough to where we can get them into shore,” Terry said. “If it’s nothing that needs to go to Anchorage right away, we’ll take them either to Homer or to Soldotna.”

Most of the time, though, the fire and emergency services will operate as normal with a little additional revenue, Terry said.

“I think it’s going to be a good thing for Anchor Point, and we just hope to provide the best service possible to the people,” he said.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com

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