UPDATE 1-Alaska voters narrowly backing tax cut for oil industry

Wed Aug 20, 2014 7:54pm EDT

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(Adds details on results)

By Steve Quinn

JUNEAU, Alaska Aug 20 (Reuters) - Alaskan voters appear to have narrowly upheld a new law that cut taxes on oil production and is worth up to $1 billion a year for companies such as ConocoPhillips, BP Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp , according to results available on Wednesday.

With 98 percent of voting precincts reporting from Tuesday's primary, those favoring the lower taxes held a four-point lead, according to unofficial returns posted by the Alaska Division of Elections.

Upholding the eight-month-old tax cut ushered in by Governor Sean Parnell means the state would not revert back to the system implemented by his old boss, Sarah Palin, who raised taxes in 2007.

Results will not be certified until Sept. 2, said state elections director Gail Fenumiai, who added that nearly 14,600 absentee and early voting ballots needed to be counted over the next 10 days to see whether the repeal effort failed.

BP's Alaska Regional President, Janet Weiss, said in a prepared statement: "Alaskans have made clear they are interested in moving forward and improving Alaska's long-term economic future. We agree with the voters that oil tax reform is working, and BP is committed to doing its part to make sure that continues."

Parnell, who claimed his own victory in the state's Republican primary election on Tuesday night, has said his tax rollback will make Alaska more competitive for investment and North Slope oil producers. He called the More Alaska Production Act crucial to the state's long-term future because it would reverse declining output.

Repeal backers got on the ballot last year with a petition featuring 50,000 signatures shortly after Parnell signed Senate Bill 21. They have faced opposition that has raised close to $15 million compared with their several hundred thousand dollars.

Those pushing for the repeal said Parnell's system only put more money in the oil companies' pockets for investment elsewhere, while depleting the state's fiscal war chest. (Reporting by Steve Quinn in Juneau, Alaska; Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Terry Wade and Andre Grenon)

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