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Protecting Alaska's Cook Inlet watershed and the life it sustains since 1995.
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Oil & Gas

The Cook Inlet region is generally regarded as the birthplace of commercial oil and gas production in Alaska.

Oil rig in Cook Inlet.The Cook Inlet region is generally regarded as the birthplace of commercial oil and gas production in Alaska, with the discovery of oil in the Swanson River oil field in 1957 providing an important catalyst for Alaska statehood in 1959.  Since then, industry has produced over 1.4 billion barrels of oil, 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and provided important tax and other revenues for local and state governments.  While the dollar value of oil and gas production is readily recognized by corporate managers and politicians, however, the true costs of oil and gas production and use are not.  For example, climate scientists now agree that the combustion of carbon-based fuels, such as oil and gas, is accelerating warming trends, especially in Southcentral Alaska, where a massive spruce bark beetle epidemic hastened by warming trends has destroyed over 2 million acres of forest, and where salmon streams on the Kenai Peninsula routinely violate temperature standards set to protect fish.

Beached oil tanker. Oil tanker aground in Cook Inlet.Furthermore, because corporate managers have a fiduciary duty to maximize their profits, they often push the true costs of production and transportation onto the public, instead of assuming these costs and possibly reducing profit margins.  For example, Cook Inlet is the only coastal waterbody in the nation where oil and gas corporations legally dump up to 2 billion gallons of toxic waste in rich fisheries each year, because it is cheaper to dump these wastes into our publicly-owned waterbodies rather than properly treating them.  Similarly, Cook Inlet is the only major port in the western hemisphere where laden oil tankers routinely transit notoriously rough and icy waters without the aid of adequately equipped tug vessels.  The grounding of the oil tanker Seabulk Pride in February 2006 – laden with nearly 5 million gallons of product – in the heart of Cook Inlet’s salmon fisheries, highlights the risks to public resources posed by corporate decisionmaking.

Rusted pipe from Cook Inlet oil and gas production.Inletkeeper’s history derives from oil and gas operations in Cook Inlet.  In 1994, a group of citizens – concerned about rapid changes to Cook Inlet wrought largely by oil and gas development – gathered in Homer, Alaska, to form Cook Inletkeeper.  The next year, Trustees for Alaska and other conservation groups sued Cook Inlet oil and gas operators for thousands of violations of the federal Clean Water Act.  Rather than risk potentially massive fines and negative public attention in a prolonged legal battle, Unocal, Shell and Marathon settled the lawsuit, and directed funds to start-up Inletkeeper.  Since then, Inletkeeper has been a vigilant watchdog, ensuring operators obey the law, and pressing for regulatory changes to protect Cook Inlet fisheries and the people and communities they support.

Today, the Cook Inlet oil and gas industry continues to enjoy public subsidies – in the form of lax permits and rules – found nowhere else in the U.S.  As a result, Inletkeeper maintains a meaningful presence in all major incidents and proceedings that involve oil and gas impacts to public water, fish and wildlife resources.

Inletkeeper Solutions

Inletkeeper recognizes the important role oil and gas plays in our economies and way of life, and that weaning ourselves from our dwindling fossil fuel resources will take time.  But it’s critical to start transitioning away from oil and gas consumption now, and to embrace new technologies around our boundless wind, tidal, wave and geothermal potentials, so we can produce cleaner renewable energy and long term jobs for current and future generations.  As a result, Inletkeeper is working to stop or reduce oil and gas pollution, and to prompt efforts to pursue new technologies that don’t rely on carbon combustion.

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Additional Resources

Alaska Division of Oil & Gas
Detailed information on leasing, exploration and production in Cook Inlet and elsewhere.

Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission
Drilling and well data and statistics.

Energy Bulletin – Peak Oil
Learn about finite oil reserves and what it means for you.

EPA Underground Injection Control
Information on subsurface waste disposal.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Oil & Gas Web Site
An industry-slanted web site with corporate links and historical information.

Oil & Gas Accountability Project
Information on coalbed methane, toxics, groundwater pollution.

Mat Su Coal Bed Methane
Information on coalbed methane development in Alaska’s fastest-growing region.