Published in October 2008 in the middle of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, Sarah Takes on Big Oil should have gotten more press coverage, because it is a no-nonsense reportorial account of the state of Alaska versus the Big Three oil companies regarding tapping into the hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of natural gas that are available in Alaska. It focuses in particular on the success of the Sarah Palin administration to pass three important pieces of legislation to move the natural gas pipeline project forward.
Certainly, this story, if given proper play in the media - or any play at all - would have gone a long way towards stifling the notion that this woman is dumb and uninformed.
I use the word reportorial with great purpose here, because Kay Cashman is the publisher and executive editor of "Petroleum News", and Kristen Nelson is the editor in chief of this weekly newspaper that covers the energy industry in Alaska. As such, you know you are getting the facts. Occasionally, however, those facts can bog down the general interest reader with so many details that it becomes a bit dry to those of us not up on the minutiae of the energy industry.
Nevertheless, Cashman and Nelson do provide helpful graphs and sidebars to define some of the terms and numbers. They also include head shots of all of the key players, which serves to differentiate and humanize what would otherwise be a parade of faceless names that would be hard to keep track of. There is also a center spread of beautiful photographs by Judy Patrick along with a helpful map of Alaska's oil and gas fields.
Sarah Takes on Big Oil is comprised largely of a collection of the stories "Petroleum News" has published over the last three or four years and indeed, some articles are lifted verbatim at the ends of chapters with links to the website to get the longer story. But the basic outline of the quest for a pipeline to take natural gas from Alaska down through Canada to "the lower 48" is told here with all its political drama intact.
Cashman and Nelson choose to begin the story before Palin's election to give the reader the context of Palin's gubernatorial run against the incumbent Republican, Frank Murkowski, and his behind-closed-doors negotiations with the Big Three for a pipeline. Negotiations in which he basically gave away the store for Alaskans, surrendering Alaskan's right to tax and receive a profit percentage on their natural resources for up to 45 years!
Alaska's situation is somewhat unique in that according to their Constitution, all Alaskans own their natural resources so they lease their lands to private operators to develop, and then they all receive a cut of the profits. The state's role is to negotiate the leases on behalf of all Alaskans and get a deal that benefits them while still being profitable to the Big Three.
Murkowski's deal - called the Stranded Gas Development Act, because he determined that getting the gas would not be a profitable business enterprise - failed miserably on that front and he knew it! According to the reports in this book, he even wanted the legislature to pass his bill without seeing it!
Palin ran her campaign on changing the negotiation process to be open, transparent, and competitive. As such, she beat the incumbent Republican in the primaries in a landslide (click for 5-min video story of primary). And then went on to win the governorship against a former Democratic governor and a strong independent candidate.
Once in office she followed through on her promise to change the process and in less than 2 years her administration passed:
- AGIA - the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, which outlined Alaska's interests that need to be met by any company applying for the gas pipeline project, and ensuring a negotiation process open to the public
- ACES - Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share, which raised Alaska's share of energy profits by raising the tax rate on energy company profits
- TransCanada license - approved to be the independent company to build the Alaska pipeline and connect it to the already existing pipeline in Canada
I recommend Sarah Takes On Big Oil for those interested in the whole story that the media did not tell you. As a bonus, the publishers are offering a FREE 2-year online subscription to "Petroleum News" for readers to keep up with the energy independence projects happening in Alaska that will benefit all of these United States. In addition, the authors promise Chapter 12 to be published online on December 30 to bring the story up to date.
Why is it important to keep up on these issues? Governor Palin has not ruled out running for higher national office in the future. But if she receives the same treatment by the media then as she did this time around, concerned voters need to already know the facts for themselves. Are you a concerned voter?