ANCHORAGE -

Two Anchorage state senators on the Senate Resources Committee sharply disagreed Wednesday on whether oil industry officials testifying before the committee on Alaska’s oil tax reform should be sworn in.

The committee’s chair, Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel, ultimately denied a request to do so from minority Democratic committee member Sen. Hollis French.

In a Wednesday statement, French says he sent a Tuesday letter (PDF) to Giessel, asking her to swear in the Repsol, BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil officials. He says they were slated to give committee members an update Wednesday afternoon on the performance of Senate Bill 21, Gov. Sean Parnell’s regime of reduced oil taxes intended to stimulate development. While the Legislature approved the measure last year, a ballot initiative has put its fate before August primary voters.

“There is no issue of greater importance to the economic future of the state than this one,” French wrote. “Alaska has struggled since statehood to set a fair oil tax. Our obligation as elected representatives should be to elicit the most reliable and trustworthy information that exists on the topic and to make it available to our constituents.”

In his letter, French said the situation was similar to statements made by Shell Oil officials on the 2012 grounding of the drilling unit Kulluk on Sitkalidak Island. French’s statement mentions testimony by a Shell executive who told the media tax considerations didn’t play a role in the decision to tow the Kulluk to Seattle in December, but later said they did under oath.

Giessel issued a statement Wednesday night countering French’s claims, in which she noted the rarity of people speaking before Senate committees being placed under oath -- a step she says French never took in the four years he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, as part of a now-dissolved bipartisan majority.

“This is an interesting request but is unprecedented and inappropriate,” Giessel said in her statement. “First, to spring an ‘under oath’ process to invited citizen speakers, at the last minute, is not only unfair, but unprofessional.”

According to Giessel, she consulted with other committee members before deciding against swearing in the industry officials. She also considered the nature of the testimony at hand.

“Today’s committee hearing was neither a deposition, nor a trial,” Giessel said. “The people asked to speak today shared trend lines of work on the North Slope, based on the economic climate and work completed on locations during the past winter work season.”