Continued Toxic Oil Dumping in Cook Inlet Fisheries About One Thing: Money
< Submit your Public Comment online here > When I interviewed for my job with Cook Inletkeeper in 1995, the hiring committee handed me a draft Clean Water Act permit […]
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< Submit your Public Comment online here >

When I interviewed for my job with Cook Inletkeeper in 1995, the hiring committee handed me a draft Clean Water Act permit for oil and gas discharges in Cook Inlet, and asked me how I would change it to reduce pollution.

Twenty four years later I still don’t have an answer.

The permit covers oil and gas exploration, development and production activities in the state waters of Cook Inlet, which generally includes everything north of Kalgin Island.  Much of this infrastructure pre-dated the 1972 federal Clean Water Act, when pollution controls were in their infancy.

As a result, when EPA adopted rules to define the best available technology (BAT) for oil and gas discharges in coastal waters across the country, it created a giant loophole for Cook Inlet: while EPA defined BAT as “zero discharge” for all other coastal oil and gas facilities in the nation – meaning those facilities had to reinject or otherwise not dump their wastes – Cook Inlet operators got a free pass to keep dumping.   

And the pollution is substantial: every year Hilcorp and the other oil and gas companies dump more than 2 billion gallons of toxic waste into Cook Inlet’s rich and productive fisheries.  This dumping occurs despite the fact industry has the technology to reinject its wastes, and to protect Cook Inlet.  In fact, Inletkeeper published a report in 2006 explaining exactly how it could be done – Dishonorable Discharges: How to Shift Cook Inlet’s Offshore Oil & Gas Operations to Zero Discharge.

So, why do Hilcorp and the other oil and gas corporations continue to dump into our fisheries? The simple answer: money. 

It’s just cheaper for these corporations to use our public waters and fisheries as their private dumping grounds, instead of spending a few more dollars to properly treat the waste. In fact, there’s a strong argument under the laws governing corporations that these oil and gas companies have a legal, fiduciary duty to dump toxic waste into Cook Inlet, because it maximizes profits for investors.

As a result, Cook Inlet remains a regulatory backwater, where a wild west attitude toward pollution and compliance prevails.  Back in 1994, concerned Alaskans sued the oil companies for over 4,200 violations of the Clean Water Act in Cook Inlet.  The settlement proceeds helped start Cook Inletkeeper. But since that time, there have been thousands more violations, and state and federal agencies have done little more than issue tepid slaps-on-the-wrist for these ongoing compliance problems. And when relatively small fines ensue, the industry simply absorbs them as the cost of doing business – because it pays to pollute in Cook Inlet.

Now, under the current draft permit out for public comment, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation would allow even more pollution, and fewer monitoring requirements. 

Despite the fact Congress envisioned a Clean Water Act permitting regime that would ratchet-down pollution levels over time, in Cook Inlet with the oil and gas industry, we’re going backwards, with more pollution and less oversight.

Our fisheries are under enormous stress from global warming and ocean acidification.  Cook Inlet’s iconic beluga whale has been listed as “endangered” for over a decade, and it’s literally teetering on the edge of extinction. And the oil and gas corporations are enjoying huge tax breaks and subsidies while our kids and teachers and seniors are on the state budget chopping block.

If you think Cook Inlet – and the countless people and families who rely on it – deserve better, speak out. 

Submit your comments online hereComments are due by 5 PM on Wednesday, May 22, 2019, and if mailed should be addressed to:

Gerry R. Brown, PE

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

Division of Water – Wastewater Discharge Authorization Program

555 Cordova Street

Anchorage, AK 99501

(907)269-4874

Email: Gerry.Brown@alaska.gov

ADEC will also hold the following public hearings:

March 26, 2019

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
Islands & Ocean Visitor Center Auditorium 
95 Sterling Highway, Suite 1 
Homer, AK 99603
Information Meeting: 3:30 PM – 5:30 PM
Hearing: 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM

March 27, 2019

Kenai Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center
11471 Kenai Spur Highway
Kenai, AK 99611
Information Meeting: 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM
Hearing: 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

March 28, 2019

Z. J. Loussac Public Library
Wilda Marston Theatre 
3600 Denali Street
Anchorage, AK 99503
Information Meeting: 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM
Hearing: 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM 
Teleconference Line: (800) 315-6338 Access Code 52531