ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - On Tuesday, Gov. Michael Dunleavy announced his appointment to fill a vacant public commissioner seat in the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission by nominating Jeremy Price.
Price formerly worked for both Rep. Don Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a public policy role, according to a release from the governor's office.
In 2014, he became the state director of the Alaska Chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a nationwide organization that advocates for reduced regulation and smaller governments, a role he served in until 2018.
He also worked for the American Petroleum Institute, a trade and lobbying association for the oil and gas industry.
Most recently he served as the deputy chief of staff for Gov. Dunleavy.
As chair of the commission, Price will regulate and oversee oil and gas drilling, development and production, reservoir depletion and metering operations on all lands subject to the state's police powers.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, was skeptical of appointing someone with such close ties to the oil industry to a board that is tasked with regulating that very industry.
"This is like the fox guarding the henhouse," he said.
The position still needs to be voted on by the Legislature, and Wielechowski said that he thinks there will be some serious questions brought up.
"He's got to come before the resource committees, and both bodies and he's gonna have to explain what his position will be on issues. He's gonna have to convince legislators that he's gonna be on the state's side and not on the industry's side," said Wielechowski.
The Anchorage senator outlined several issues that the commission has been working on lately that could be sources of conflicting interests. One is the amount of bonding developers are required to pay for new wells as a form of insurance to the state for if there is an accident.
"From an industry perspective, and petroleum institute perspective and the Koch institute perspective, they don't want any regulations at all, they just want the industry to be able come in and do whatever they want whenever they want," he said.
Another potential conflict would be over conservation of natural gas on North Slope wells. Wielechowski says that the oil industry pushes to just burn off the gas coming out of oil wells, something he says conflicts with the constitutional requirement to maximize benefit from resources.
Kara Moriarty of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, disputed both of Wielechowski's claims. In an email, she said that the oil and gas industry is highly regulated and that any burning of gas is for safety reasons.
"In fact, industry attempts to reinject as much gas as possible back into the wells to enhance oil recovery. Alaska has a long standing history of having one of the lowest gas flaring rates in the nation, and as it should be, flaring is closely monitored and regulated by AOGCC," she wrote.
Dunleavy spokesperson Matt Shuckerow emphasized that a recently-rewritten statute requires that the public commissioner "demonstrates experience in oil and gas operations in the state," something he said Price's experience has shown.
In a press release, the administration emphasized the commission's regulatory responsibility and emphasized its role in developing resources.
“Jeremy Price shares my vision for a state that is both economically competitive and protects the interest of Alaskans,” the governor said in a statement. “I welcome him into this new role as Chair of AOGCC and look forward to his work to prevent waste of our natural resources while ensuring our regulatory environment yields greater recovery of Alaska’s oil, gas, and geothermal potential. I’m confident Jeremy will work to increase collaboration between AOGCC and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Ultimately, he understands that Alaskans are the customer and we are in their service.”
Meanwhile, Dunleavy's chief of staff Ben Stevens said that the reassignment of Price is part of a larger staff transition that Stevens has overseen.
"It’s fair to say the makeup and the structure of the office is evolving under the Governor’s direction," said Stevens through an email statement. He added that the search is now underway for a new deputy chief of staff now that Price is moving to the new position, "The Office of the Governor will be looking for talent – both internally and externally – to fill the capacity Jeremy Price will be vacating."
According to Dunleavy's announcement, Price grew up in Salcha, and he worked for Salcha Electric for 10 years.
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