WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2017— The Center for Biological Diversity today called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce federal laws that Hilcorp Alaska is violating with its ongoing natural gas pipeline leak in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. The underwater leak, discovered Feb. 7, threatens critically endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales and other wildlife by creating a low-oxygen dead zone.
In a notice letter to the new EPA chief Scott Pruitt, the Center urged the EPA to prosecute the oil company’s violations of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Today’s letter to the EPA and Hilcorp threatened legal action if the agency fails to take enforcement action and also cited violations of the Endangered Species Act for the leak’s impacts on Cook Inlet belugas.
“Belugas and their prey are being harmed every day this leak continues. We can’t wait another month or more for the sea ice to clear before plugging the leak,” said Miyoko Sakashita, the Center’s oceans program director. “Every day they delay, wildlife is harmed, boaters are at risk, and a potent greenhouse gas rises into the atmosphere.”
Hilcorp has said that up to 310,000 cubic feet of natural gas per day — about what two households would use in a year — bubbles out of a broken pipeline about three miles offshore from Nikiski on the Kenai Peninsula. The company also said it won’t repair the leak until sea ice clears. State and federal regulators have repeatedly warned and fined Hilcorp for its “disregard for regulatory compliance.”
“A company that defies regulatory oversight shouldn’t be calling the shots here. The EPA needs to intervene and enforce laws that protect wildlife and human health,” Sakashita said. “This uncontrolled natural gas leak in sensitive waters will be the first test of Scott Pruitt’s approach to regulating the oil industry.”
The Center’s letter details the biological and environmental damage from natural gas and its primary component, methane, a powerful contributor to global climate change. The conservation group Cook InletKeeper has also filed a notice of intent to sue over the pipeline leak.
Natural gas is toxic to fish and shellfish, and even low levels can displace them from their habitat. The leak is in the heart of critical habitat designated to protect Cook Inlet’s belugas, which now number just 340.