BP's Departure Could Hit Alaska Programs

The company's philanthropy included support for summer engineering programs, student scholarships and other initiatives.

BP sponsorship sign at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
BP sponsorship sign at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
AP Photo/Mark Thiessen

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — BP's plan to pull out of Alaska could leave a big hole for nonprofits and other programs that benefited from the oil giant's donations and its employee volunteers.

BP on Tuesday announced it would sell its Alaska assets to Hilcorp in a deal expected to close next year. BP, which has had a decades-long presence in the state, said it employs about 1,600 people in Alaska.

Its footprint has extended beyond the North Slope, where it has interests in Prudhoe Bay, other developments and the trans-Alaska pipeline.

Its philanthropy has included support for student scholarship and teacher honors, summer engineering programs, community cleanups and other initiatives. Employees were encouraged to volunteer and serve on boards.

The BP Energy Center in Anchorage offered free day-time meeting space to nonprofits and community groups, said Tamera Lienhart, director of community affairs for BP Alaska.

Meg Baldino, a BP spokeswoman, said the center will be left as a gift to Alaska. Details on who would run the center remained unclear.

Cassandra Stalzer, a vice president with United Way of Anchorage, said Alaska — with its small population — has a "pretty thin philanthropic layer," with few foundations of size that broadly support "the general good" or social service projects, and not a lot of wealthy people who have taken leading philanthropic roles.

"So BP has been, for many years, one of the most significant players in philanthropy as a whole for the state," she said.

Since 1998, Stalzer said BP and its employees have provided $22 million to her organization for community programs.

She said she thinks there has been a greater focus on the role of nonprofits in community health through this year's state budget debate and now the expected departure of BP. Often nonprofits are seen as "nice-to-have extras," but they provide important services, such as housing and mental health programs, she said.

"This could be a quality of life moment for us where we need to figure out what it is that we really value and stand for," she said. United Way continues to press ahead and hopes people take this as an opportunity to get involved, she said.

Laurie Wolf, president and CEO of The Foraker Group, which helps build up nonprofits, said BP's long history and breadth of giving has been notable.

BP reported donating more than $3 million to Alaska community organizations in 2017, with its employees supporting hundreds of education and community groups and youth teams. Baldino said the 2018 figure was $4 million.

The company has had rough spots. In 2011, BP's Alaska subsidiary agreed to pay a $25 million penalty after a spill five years earlier of crude oil from BP pipelines on the North Slope.

State Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, acknowledged BP's contributions but also said the company has looked out for its corporate interests. He said BP has been in "harvest mode" at the aging Prudhoe Bay and hasn't explored on the North Slope for years.

"I don't wish them any ill will at all but the reality is, they have a different business model and Alaska just doesn't fit in their model right now," he said.

BP said its planned sale was part of an effort to divest $10 billion in assets this year and next. The sale to Hilcorp was valued at $5.6 billion.

Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said there are unknowns, including what will happen with employees.

"We don't know what's going to happen to corporate contributions. But we do know that both companies have demonstrated commitment in the past, and I have no doubt that's going to continue," she said.

Hilcorp spokesman Justin Furnace said plans for the BP workforce "will develop as we determine how we will integrate the acquisition into Hilcorp's existing operations."

By email Wednesday, he said giving back is important to Hilcorp and its employees, citing volunteerism, sponsoring Future Leaders of America scholarships and employee dollars and company-matched funds supporting Alaska charities.

Lisa Parady, executive director of the Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals, said BP for years has been generous in providing student scholarships through a partnership with her organization.

She said she's hopeful Hilcorp will consider programs BP has supported "that have a significant impact on the lives of our students, and certainly we'll be reaching out to them to ask them to consider continuing with this program."

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