Donna Schantz (Courtesy photo)

Donna Schantz (Courtesy photo)

Alaska Voices: Transparency is the foundation of public trust

The inability to verify is a core concern the council has regarding the upcoming sale to Hilcorp.

  • By Donna Schantz
  • Monday, March 9, 2020 11:07pm
  • Opinion

Public trust in our oil spill prevention and response system took many years to rebuild after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. It took a commitment to transparency, listening and engaging stakeholders in developing and maintaining the system of safeguards we have today for the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated tankers. Alyeska Pipeline Service Company initiated many of the spill prevention and response improvements by working with regulators and the public, a testament to their ongoing commitment to the people, environment and safety.

This system is now widely regarded as one of the best in the world. Strong State of Alaska statutes and regulations have been a major driver of this robust system. The lack of significant spills in Prince William Sound over the last 30 years indicates the effectiveness of industry meeting or exceeding regulatory requirements.

In enacting the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, Congress determined that only when local citizens are involved in oil transport will the trust develop that is necessary to change the system from confrontation to consensus, and so the Act called for creation of citizen councils.

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council was created to provide a voice for citizens, those with the most to lose in the event of a large spill. Our council is a unique partner for industry and regulators, giving them a platform to provide information, answer questions, listen to stakeholders and cultivate the long-term relationships that are necessary to establish public trust. Involving local citizens in the process of independently verifying the state of readiness to prevent and respond to oil spills helps build trust.

The inability to verify is at the core of concerns the council currently has regarding the upcoming sale of BP’s Alaska assets to Hilcorp, including the transfer of 49% ownership of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. There is a lack of information available for the public to determine whether Hilcorp and/or Harvest is financially fit, willing and able to safely and reliably operate the Valdez Marine Terminal and associated tankers in Prince William Sound.

When BP and Hilcorp/Harvest filed with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to request approval of the transfer of operating authority, Hilcorp/Harvest also filed a petition for confidential treatment of certain financial information. Meanwhile, the public has been asked to provide comments and participate in a public process without access to this information. How can the public be expected to make meaningful comments when important information is not available?

For the past 40 years, every owner of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System has disclosed financial information to the investment community in order to be publicly traded. The public deserves to have access to Hilcorp/Harvest’s financial information in order to determine whether the transfer of operating authority to Hilcorp/Harvest is in the best interest of the public.

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska has said it will make a determination by March 12, 2020, on whether the financial statements will be disclosed to the general public. Under Alaska law, records of all public agencies are open to inspection by the public, unless specifically provided otherwise. The council urges the commission to take a position of full transparency by allowing public access to basic financial information. Safeguarding our state by ensuring Hilcorp/Harvest’s ability to respond to a major spill and properly clean up as assets are shutdown must outweigh concerns about privacy for this information.

Alaskans should be welcoming Hilcorp/Harvest and supporting the successful transfer and operation of these assets that are so important to the state. The public should be looking forward to building cooperative and collaborative relationships founded upon the transparent sharing of information. We know from experience that Congress was right when they said that only when stakeholders feel informed, heard and included in the process, will trust and acceptance develop. Transparent access to information regarding the transfer of assets from BP to Hilcorp/Harvest is essential to building public support and trust.

Donna Schantz is executive director for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council.

More in Opinion

This image available under the Creative Commons license shows the outline of the state of Alaska filled with the pattern of the state flag.
Opinion: Bringing broadband to all Alaskans

Too many Alaskans face barriers accessing the internet.

This photo shows a stack of pocket constitutions at the Alaska State Capitol. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Join us in voting against a constitutional convention

Voting no on a constitutional convention is vital to the well-being and stability of our state.

Michael O’Meara.
Point of View: Tell BOEM how you feel

It seems like BOEM should prioritize input from people most likely to be affected if leases are sold

The State of Alaska, Department of Administration, Office of Information Technology webpage. (Screenshot/oit.alaska.gov)
Cloud migration now underway will strengthen, enhance State IT systems

At the most basic level, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services remotely

Jessica Cook, left, and Les Gara stand in The Peninsula Clarion’s offices on Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska Voices: Better schools for a better economy

We need leaders who care about our children’s futures

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: This is our borough and city

By Therese Lewandowski Another election already? Yes! This is our local elections… Continue reading

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation building is seen in Juneau, Alaska, in March 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: APFC keeps steady keel during turbulent year

FY2022 was a challenging year for all investors

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Nonprofits provide essential services not provided by cities

By our count, nonprofits provide more than 100 jobs to our communities

t
Opinion: Don’t get scammed like I nearly did

I should have just turned off the computer.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce campaigns for governor as he walks in the 65th annual Soldotna Progress Days Parade on Saturday, July 23, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. Pierce resigned as borough mayor effective Sept. 30, 2022, to focus on his gubernatorial campaign. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: ‘It has been an honor to serve’

Borough mayor gives send-off ahead of departure

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announces Friday, July 15, 2022, that 2022 most PFD payments will be distributed on Sept. 20, 2022. (Screenshot)
Opinion: A historic PFD still leaves work to be done

It is important to remember the dividend is not, and has never been, a welfare payment