As fishermen left the Homer Harbor Monday morning (September 9) to longline halibut in Lower Cook Inlet, the 273’ seismic vessel Polarcus Alima darkened the horizon in Kachemak Bay. The vessel had turned off its AIS vessel tracking system after leaving Japan last week, but local fishermen and whale scientists quickly spotted the giant vessel as it emerged from the Gulf of Alaska.
Finn whales and humpback whales surfaced and dove to feed in Kachemak Bay as the vessel headed to the Homer Spit.
The Polarcus Alima is under contract to Hilcorp, which is exploring for oil and gas in the heart of Lower Cook Inlet fisheries and whale habitat. Hilcorp came to Homer a couple weeks ago – not to ask for feedback from local people with local knowledge – but simply to tell us what they were planning to do in the very fisheries that support our local communities.
Not surprisingly, Hilcorp’s assertions at the public meeting about environmental responsibility and worker safety fell on deaf ears, because in its relatively short tenure in Alaska, Hilcorp has racked-up a disturbing array of pollution and worker violations. But the crowd of fishermen and local mariners took special umbrage at Hilcorp’s blanket denial that seismic blasting from its air guns would harm the Lower Cook Inlet marine ecosystem.
Among other things, Hilcorp’s scientist told the standing-room-only crowd Hilcorp’s seismic air gun blasting would be “incapable of injuring fish.”
It’s important to recognize Hilcorp will be firing 14 air guns at 2000 psi every 5-10 seconds for up to 24 hours a day, over 6 weeks or more.
Imagine it as a giant boom box under your bedroom window, blasting 24/7 for weeks on end. You get the picture.
Scientific research shows impacts from seismic air guns to plankton at the very base of the marine food chain, as well as high induced stress levels in fish like pacific cod with swim bladders. And of course, seismic testing is known to harm whales, which poses special problems for Cook Inlet’s endangered Beluga whale, as well as Finn, Humpback and other whales.
While industry likes to pronounce seismic blasting has few or no effects on our marine systems, the fact is, they refuse to study the issue. So, from the perspective of the oil and gas corporations, no science, no harm, no foul.
But the looming image of the Polarcus Alima tells a story beyond simply the harmful impacts to our marine resources. Alaska is just coming off its hottest summer on record, with forest fires consuming our roads and communities, water shortages in our coastal villages and dead and stressed salmon across the state. As a result, the Polarcus Alima – and Hilcorp’s drive for more oil and gas in the frontier waters of Cook Inlet – represents a clear and present danger to Alaskans today and in the future from for-profit corporations pressing ahead with business-as-usual.
On October 9, the Alaska Supreme Court will hear arguments in a climate case brought by youth across Alaska. These kids and young adults want one, simple thing: a meaningful plan to address climate change in the Last Frontier.
As Hilcorp starts blasting our fisheries this week, let’s hope the Alaska Supreme Court can inject a little sanity into Alaska’s head-in-the-sand approach to our climate crisis.