Hilcorp Alaska has agreed to a temporary shutdown of its oil and gas production to reduce environmental impact and safety risks in the wake of the company’s gas line leak in Cook Inlet.
The decision came in the aftermath of discussions between company executives and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, who said “Alaskans want peace of mind that our waters are protected.”
Hilcorp executives committed to Walker that they will not be starting up production at the Cook Inlet platforms again until federal and state regulators are satisfied that the oil and gas lines can be operated safely and in accordance with all applicable laws, the governor’s office said March 25.
Hilcorp agreed to reduce the gas line pressure by half – from 145 pounds per square inch to 65 psi, the minimum needed to maintain pressure to prevent water from entering the line. Because the gas line was formerly an oil pipeline, old crude oil could potentially leak into the inlet if water were to enter the gas line.
Hilcorp said in its statement, also issued on March 25, that as the company works with government agencies to finalize the plan to reduce gas line pressure, shut-in production and repair the pipeline, “the safety of personnel, wildlife and the environment remain the top priority.”
Hilcorp first discovered the leak into Cook Inlet, an important salmon fishery for commercial, sport and personal use harvesters, during a helicopter overflight on Feb. 7, and reported the situation to federal and state agencies. The company said winter ice has hampered efforts to repair the line because it makes it dangerous for divers and boats to operate in the area of the leak.
Hilcorp contends in its reports to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation that the spill has not unduly harmed the environment, but Bob Shavelson, advocacy director for the nonprofit Cook Inletkeeper said the ongoing pollution “lies in the heart of some of the most important habitat for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale and its prey species.”
Cook Inletkeeper served notice on Hilcorp in mid-February of intent to file a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act, based on information that methane from the illegal discharge is displacing oxygen in the water column, thereby creating a “dead zone” of unknown expanse, where low or no oxygen levels threaten harm and lethality to fish and wildlife.
The letter, signed by Shavelson, also said that based on the temperature and salinity conditions in Cook Inlet, the solubility of methane in marine waters presents an ongoing threat to water quality, fish and wildlife.