The oil and gas industry intends to vastly expand oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Cook Inlet which threatens Cook Inlet’s ecosystem which contains one of the most productive fisheries in Alaska, supporting one of the state’s premier commercial and sport fishing economies and a subsistence lifestyle for Native Tribes that is centuries old. KBCS is working to ensure that expansion of oil and gas drilling in Cook Inlet will be conducted in a safe and environmental sound manner through pressing new exploratory wells to adopt zero discharge practices and ensuring that blow-out prevention and response tools are available and adequate.
The significance of the expansion of oil and gas drilling in Cook Inlet is illustrated by fact that existing oil and gas drilling in the Inlet has already severely impacted valuable commercial and subsistence fishing, recreational activities and aquatic habitat. The Inlet, for example, is the only coastal area in the entire nation where oil corporations legally dump billions of gallons of toxic wastes into rich fisheries each year, and is the only major port in North America where laden oil tankers go without tug escorts, in icy waters re-nown for their navigational hazards.
Such problems could be exacerbated by two independent oil companies, Houston-based Escopeta Oil, and Buccaneer Alaska Drilling LLC, an Australian firm, which are attempting independently to bring jack-up rigs to Alaska. The state of Alaska has responded to such efforts by proclaiming that the state is open for business usually at the expense of the environment or human health and welfare. In 2010, for example, regardless of the worst recession in U.S. history the state legislature adopted a lawthat provides a 100-percent subsidy up to $25 million to the first company to drill a well in the pre-Tertiary zone, with lesser subsidies of 90 percent and 80 percent up to $22.5 million and $20 million for the second and third wells respectively. Further, last January, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority announced it would invest $30 million on bringing the Buccaneer jack-up rig to the Inlet.
Finally, even now, as the nuclear crises unfolds in Japan, Congressional Republicans are ramping up the rhetoric for increased oil and gas drilling to offset the anticipated emphasis on nuclear power in Alaska and elsewhere. If conservationists do not act now to stop the hazardous expansion of oil and gas development of Cook Inlet, the momentum for such development could build so that it is too late.
Under the Project KBCS’s action will lead to safer standards for oil and gas drilling including prevention of blow-outs the threat from which will be greatly enhanced by expansion of drilling in the Cook Inlet. In 2006, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, for example, weakened oil spill discharge prevention and contingency planning standards and oversight of the oil industry's preparedness. The BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last year should serve as a stark reminder as to just how irresponsible such actions are and just how vulnerable Alaska’s fisheries and the families they support are to spilled oil.
In fact, blowouts occurred on Inlet rigs, in Cook Inlet 1962 and 1987 and today, northern Cook Inlet is laced with an aging oil and gas infrastructure, including 15 offshore oil platforms, hundreds of on-shore wells, and a massive petrochemical complex and one there is one oil spill per month in the Inlet on average resulting from the industry’s poor oversight and old pipelines. It is unknown at this time whether the state’s Inlet response measures are sufficient to handle a blowout from new wells because the proposed drilling anticipates sinking wells into previously untapped “pre-Tertiary” formations containing unknown pressures. As illustrated by what happened in the Gulf recently, Cook Inlet’s ecosystem and economy would not soon recover from the damage caused by a blowout that took weeks or months to seal.
We will collaborate with other conservation organizations and tribal entities in Cook Inlet including Cook InletKeeper, the Alaska Inter Tribal Council, the Cook Inlet Marine Mammel Council and other conservationists and Native Villages to develop a coalition modeled based on the Bristol Bay OCS Group (Group) to address oil and gas development in Cook Inlet. KBCS is currently a member of the Group and will consult with the Group about assisting with our efforts related to protecting Cook Inlet from similar threats to those that Bristol Bay is facing.
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