It took less than 13 years for oil from Prudhoe Bay, traveling down the new Trans-Alaska Pipeline, to smother the coast and the life it sustained in Prince William Sound and beyond. From 1977 to 1989, the corporate and political promises seemed to be paying off for Alaskans. All the concerns about the potential risks of spills seemed like unnecessary hand wringing; until March 24th, when the sight of blackened waters shocked the world.
Today, 34 years after the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, the corporate and political promises are stacking up again.
In a recent report, the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council stated:
Over the past several years, PWSRCAC has become increasingly concerned with budget cuts and reductions in staffing levels at agencies with key oversight responsibilities at the VMT [Valdez Marine Terminal], including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The consequences of reduced oversight have, generally, never been favorable for the Alaska public and its environment.“
Take a look at Cook Inlet. We currently have a steady stream of state-permitted toxic waste pouring into our marine waters, while Hilcorp’s spills and leaks are given trivial fines by regulators, and the industry bankrolls a PR campaign convincing our politicians that, despite the social and economic costs of climate change, Alaska must remain an oil & gas state.
Instead of using their vast profits to finally meet the standards expected everywhere else in the country, the oil & gas corporations lobby to obtain – and do obtain – permits to dump over 100,000 gallons of oil and grease, and over 835,000 lbs. of metals such as mercury, nickel, copper, manganese and zinc into the Cook Inlet. No other place in the country allows multinational energy conglomerates to poison ecosystems this way. And it’s not just the ecosystems and endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales being polluted; two-thirds of Alaskans live and work in this watershed.
Meanwhile, Cook Inlet Chinook are in real trouble. The king salmon forecast for 2023 is shockingly low; sport, personal use, and commercial fishing restrictions are already in place. Whether the projected low returns are related to the hot, dry summer of 2019 – when salmon were returning to spawn in warm Cook Inlet streams – or another cause, our state fish is showing significant signs of stress.
The real solution to combat false corporate and political promises is to get off dirty fossil fuels.
To that end, our goal in 2023 is to get Lower Cook Inlet removed from all future oil & gas leasing plans. We continue to pressure the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to reject Hilcorp’s one bid from last year’s Lease Sale 258 in Lower Cook Inlet. Hilcorp has proven itself to be a bad actor with a history of noncompliance, health and safety violations, leaks, and spills. No string of promises can overshadow this terrible track record.
The risks are too great to be complacent now. We owe it to the Cook Inlet king salmon and beluga whales, the Alaskans who fought to keep the oil from destroying their livelihoods and coastal ecosystems in 1989, and those who continue to speak up for future generations today.