ANCHORAGE, AK, May 9, 2018 — The Trump administration announced today that it received an application from Hilcorp Alaska, LLC to harm bowhead whales, ringed seals, bearded seals and other imperiled Arctic marine mammals.
The application to the National Marine Fisheries Service is connected to the company’s proposal to build and operate the Liberty project, an artificial oil-drilling island and underwater pipeline in the Beaufort Sea.
“Injuring Arctic whales and seals to do dangerous offshore oil drilling is reckless and cruel. These endangered species are already being harmed enough by our fossil fuel dependence,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Arctic wildlife faces double danger from this project, first during construction and then by the oil spills that will naturally follow in this unforgiving environment.”
The project involves construction of a nine-acre artificial island with a 24-acre footprint in about 20 feet of water and a 5.6-mile pipeline under Arctic waters to send the oil into onshore pipelines. If authorized, the project would be the first development project fully in federal Arctic waters.
Noise from construction and operation of the Liberty project can harm whales and seals by disrupting essential behaviors such as feeding and breeding. It can also mask the communications of bowhead, gray and beluga whales. Construction of the ice roads that would be used to support activities offshore has the potential to kill ringed seals.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act generally prohibits killing, harming, or harassing a marine mammal. The statute allows the federal government to authorize certain industrial activities to harm marine mammals, provided such activities will take only a “small number” of animals and have no more than a “negligible impact” on the population.
The project will also need another permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to harm polar bears.
“Hilcorp has a terrible track record with its Alaska operations. This company can’t be trusted to safely operate in Cook Inlet, and it has no business in treacherous Arctic waters,” Monsell said. “The Liberty project is a disaster waiting to happen.”
Concerns about Hilcorp’s ability to build and manage the project were heightened earlier this year when its underwater gas pipeline in Alaska’s Cook Inlet leaked for nearly four months because the company said the presence of sea ice prevented its repair.
Hilcorp has been aggressively expanding its Alaska fossil fuel holdings, spending more than $3 million to lease 14 new Cook Inlet tracts in federal waters June. Hilcorp has also been the most heavily fined oil company in Alaska in recent years, with state regulators writing “disregard for regulatory compliance is endemic to Hilcorp’s approach to its Alaska operations.”
Today’s notice requests comments on the application, which would allow Hilcorp to harm and harass marine mammals for a five-year period beginning in November 2019. Hilcorp wants federal permission to injure and disturb marine mammals more than 600 times over the life of the authorization.
Comments on the application are due June 8.