Potential Alaska Pot Businesses Sprout Up


The state of Alaska has been accepting marijuana business applications since late February. Of the 200 applications that the state Marijuana Control Office has made public, there are of course, High North, The Great Alaska Kush Company, Musky Ox, Frozen Budz, and curiously, Subsistence Products.

It will still be a few months before the state approves any applications and the first shops open up to customers. But it’s clear now that legalized pot has drawn out entreprenuers from across the state. The early industry push looks to be centered in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, and Fairbanks. But southeast Alaska and more remote locations like Nome and Tok have business at the ready.

It appears that more than anything, Alaskans want to grow.

Alaska Marijuana Initiated Applications as of 3-16-2016

More than 100 are hoping to be growers. But 36 applicants want to open retail stores, six seek to make concentrates, four would like to test marijuana.The state is publishing a list of applications, currently only available in a messy, multi-page PDF.

Data is from the state Marijuana Control Office and is current only as of 3/16/2016. Location data is from each public notice and may not be completely accurate. There is one Soldotna location in the Gulf of Alaska, for example.


Potential Alaska Pot Businesses Sprout Up


Alaska’s Deadly Skies Mapped


Alaska’s rural communities depend on a dedicated fleet of bush planes and pilots to move supplies and people across thousands of miles of roadless territory. Anyone who flies, drives, or boats know that there is risk inherent in getting around. No less than 321 people have died over the past 15 years in Alaska aviation crashes, according to a database maintained by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Click on each crash point for more information.

This map is better zooming and examining individual accidents. (Please don’t mind the web mercator projection…)

CartoDB’s quick and dirty heat map shows the obvious: Alaska’s urban core of Anchorage and the railbelt north towards the Mat-Su Valley is where many of the crashes occur. But all of bush Alaska relies on air transportation and freight for some purpose.

You also see a lot of activity in the southwest portion of the state, where the state’s third busiest airport, Bethel, serves as a hub for nearly 60 villages and in Southeast Alaska where the weather is (especially?) notoriously bad.


Flying into Tuluksak in November, 2014.

In 2015 alone, there have been 10 crashes that killed 22 people. To be honest, I had to stop and restart this project several times this fall when additional crashes changed the data set. A large majority of the crashes are limited to one or two deaths, but there are several with more than five fatalities.

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 10.49.56 PM

2015’s 10 crashes are not out of the ordinary: 10 of the past 15 years have seen 10 or more fatal crashes. On average, just under 22 people die annually in Alaskan aviation incidents. 2009 and 2014 each had just four fatal crashes, claiming seven and five lives respectively.

2013 was the most deadly year in recent memory, when 14 fatal crashes killed 35 people and seriously injured 12. One accident can  very quickly add up; 10 of the deaths came in a Rediske Air flight in Soldotna that is blamed on improper cargo storage.

I remember reporting for KYUK that fall on a Era Cessna 208 carrying six that went down near St. Mary’s in terrible weather Thanksgiving weekend. Four were killed that evening. Icing conditions may have played a role in that crash, but the NTSB has not come out with a final report.

Four died when a Cessna 208 crashed near St. Mary's. Photo courtesy of Alaska DPS.

Four died when a Cessna 208 crashed near St. Mary’s. Photo courtesy of Alaska DPS.


Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 10.37.34 PMBut it’s not during Alaska’s cold, wet, and dark winters that tragedies claim the lives of pilots and passengers. The short three months of summer account for a disproportionate amount of crashes over the past 15 years. 55% of the fatal crashes in this period happened during June, July, and August. It’s a period of intense activity: the salmon are running, there’s no shortage of daylight. People naturally get around more this time of year and spend more time in the air.

On August 9th, 2010, a plane carrying former Senator Ted Stevens and eight others aboard a went down in the  Muklung Hills northeast of Dillingham. Even with a snow-free landscape, it still took hours for a rescue team to reach the hillside. Half of the plane’s occupants perished.


Former Senator Ted Stevens and four others died in while on a Bristol Bay fishing trip. Photo from Alaska DPS.

Former Senator Ted Stevens and four others died in while on a Bristol Bay fishing trip. Photo from Alaska DPS.

Winter is statistically a different story. February has only seen three fatal crashes in 15 years. July shows 29 crashes in the same period, killing 83 and seriously injuring six. August alone has seen more fatal crashes than the cold six-month stretch of November through April.

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 10.42.52 PM

Data for this visualization begin in 2001, when the NTSB began consistently publishing latitude and longitude data for crashes. You can further explore the data in this spreadsheet derived from a download of NTSB data.


This analysis looks at only crashes from 2001 to 2015 in the NTSB database that include a fatality; there are additional accidents and incidents in which the pilot and passengers survive or are uninjured. The NTSB is inconsistent in reporting several aspects of the dataset, such as make and model, purpose of flight, and FAR description. A few notes are included where latitude and longitude data had to be tweaked.

Data may be incomplete. Tools included CartoDB, Excel, Google Spreadsheets, and Plot.ly.


Alaska’s Deadly Skies Mapped


How Good Are Alaska’s Oracles At Predicting Oil Prices?

If I could predict crude oil prices, I wouldn’t be writing this, I’d be somewhere warm, writing a very different blog post. The Alaska Legislature finds itself in the same situation, except that they go someplace wet (Juneau) each year and build a budget in which (historically) around 90 percent of revenues come from the volatile commodity.

A couple months out from the 2016 session, we’re soon expecting the Alaska Department of Revenue’s Fall Revenue Sourcebook, one of the major tools we have for predicting oil prices and our future state budgets.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 10.23.37 PM

We’re halfway through FY2016 now, which ends June 30, 2016. Let’s see how the experts DOR uses did over the last decade predicting this exact year.

FY 2016 Predicted Oil Price

The estimates range from a spartan $25.50  to a dreamy $114.88 per barrel of Alaska North Slope at West Coast refineries. While we still have another seven months before FY2016 is done, oil prices would have to climb in a hurry to break $60 for the year’s average.

Where do these numbers come from? Why do they exist? Why bother predicting more than a few months ahead? Maybe I should ask myself the same questions. It’s either that or don’t plan at all?

The DOR currently brings together experts in a closed-door session each fall for a day based on “a modified Delphi Method” to produce the oil price predictions that guide revenue models. Dermot Cole last year outlined a few of the quirks of the process developed by the RAND Corporation.

37 people from state government, business, and academia took part in 2014, according to the state. They each scribbled down their forecasts after “a day of presentations by experts on oil price markets and market structure.”

Can you picture eight hours of PowerPoint presentations and a lot of pondering and furrowed brows? I’m picturing pretty good catering?

After a look at the last decade of forecasts, time and global markets have not been kind to the prognosticators.  Digging through a trove of PDFs on the DOR website, I pulled forecasts going back to 2001.

Alaska West Coast Oil Price Prediction vs. Actual Price (1)

The predictions can be wildly off, especially more than a couple years out. The lean years of the late ’90s were not far out of memory when the prediction team anticipated oil staying low.

In November of 2005, when prices hovered in the mid-50s, DOR assumed a long-term average of $25.50 in the years to come (At that time, rules restricted long-term changes to once every two years upon agreement from forecasting participants.)

In October/November of 2013, the group predicted FY2016 oil to be near $107.69. (It was at 42.34 on November 19th). Triple digits had been the norm for some time by 2013. (The state-funded $24 million Bethel pool was under construction in 2013 and we were holding Knik Arm Bridge hearings.)

The forthcoming glut of new American and cheaply-produced Saudi oil had yet to be reflected in prices. It makes total sense now.

Few predicted the(ongoing) collapse in prices that began a year ago. I might actually have enough cash in my wallet right now to buy a barrel of oil. That is rarely true.

The 2014 estimate for FY2016 (which for short term forecasts relied on a new internal probabilistic model based on “Jump Diffusion”) called for more modest $66.03. While it sounds close, that’s still 34% above the current FY2016 daily average of 49.18. That’s a difference this year of $400+ million dollars in unrestricted reveue, according to 2014 assumptions.

The estimated prices in the above graph begin at most about 6-9 months after the time of the forecast in the first year in which participants have no actual data, that is, only true predictions are included. For example, the November 2001 group worked in middle of FY2002, looking forward to FY2003 which was to begin a half year ahead in July of 2002.

The following chart shows these initial  predictions of about seven to 18 months ahead.

 Most Recent Prediction Versus Actual Price.png

Until the recent plunge in prices, the oil market consistently outperformed expectations, including a near doubling in 2008. It gets worse if you try to predict further back.

Two years isn’t any better, and five years isn’t good for much.

Prediction from Five Years Prior Versus Actual Price (4).png

How large is the difference compared to the actual price? The Oracles consistently underestimated prices. Until they didn’t.

Actual Price Percentage Difference Compared to Forecasts (1).png

We would hope that these percentage difference lines would hover a bit closer to zero.

What’s to come? The 2015 Spring estimate looks forward to a surge. Oil hits $86.66 in FY2017, rises steadily to $109.54 by 2020, and is an attractive $124.34 in 2024. Never mind the forecast of just 320,300 barrels per day flowing down TAPS that year. Maybe we’ll have the first drops of LNG flowing by then.

Estimates are estimates. What happens in OPEC meetings, on the tar sands of Alberta, and within East Asian economies will ultimately determine the price. Right?

In any case, the state now makes more from appreciation and dividends from the $50 billion in the Permanent Fund than oil.

Dermot Cole said it best in his article:

“The future is uncertain.”

Alaska DOR said it second best on the cover of their cryptic 1989 Fall Revenue Sourcebook.

“Free Rides Die Hard.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 10.24.21 PM


Notes: Data come from Alaska Department of Revenue sourcebooks. Price data are from DOR forecast documents and the DOR Tax Division ‘s records. This used nominal values from fall forecasts with the exception of 2015,  which used the spring book.

I parsed data in Excel and charted in Plot.ly. Revenues to the state are based on the wellhead price, which subtracts costs and other items. I used ANS West Coast for consistency across tax regimes and to reflect DOR’s predictions on solely price instead of the many other factors it takes into account.

You can view data here.


Five Million Acres of Alaska Wildfire Growth

Alaska is on track to break 2004’s record for the most acres burned. Nearly 700 fires have been started by lightening storms or humans.

The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center serves as a clearinghouse for the many agencies that are responsible for tracking and fighting fires across the state and has a wealth of GIS data. This animation visualizes the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center’s measured perimeters for late June through July 18th.

Tools: QGIS 2.4, Time Manager, OpenLayers plugin, GoPro Studio.

Data: AICC, Google.

Note: Data are incomplete and do not perfectly correspond to fire activity on the display date. This is for experimental purposes only.


Aniak Complex Battles Massive Middle Kuskokwim Fires

Alaska is on track to break its all-time record for acres burned in a fire season. The southwest portion of the state has experienced the same dry conditions that caused the state to flare up with lightening storms rolled through in June. I had a chance to visit the “Aniak Complex” recently. As the state battles more than 300 fires, they’ve stationed crew leaders in remote areas to battle clusters of fires. I reported on the efforts for KYUK. It was largely an audio project, but I was able to get some interesting footage while traveling.


Alaska Wildfires Visualization

Over a million acres have burned in Alaska this year. Low snowpack and the low meltwater that followed were hammered with a persistent high pressure system that baked the spruce forest and tundra to tinder. A series of thunderstorms was all it took to light Alaska on fire.

This map shows the cumulative discovery dates of Alaska’s wildfires during the month of June.

NOTES: This data does not capture the “out dates” for the fires. This simply shows in sequence the 403 fires that have been documented this month.

Data: Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.