Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 23, 2017

Contact: Kristen Monsell, (510) 844-7137,

Ongoing Alaska Gas Leak Raises Concerns About Operator's Competence to Operate Safely in Arctic

Groups Urge Feds to Reject Hilcorp's Proposed Arctic Drilling Project, Cancel Upcoming Cook Inlet Lease Sale

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— In the midst of Hilcorp Alaska's ongoing gas pipeline leak in Cook Inlet, conservation groups today demanded that the Trump administration reject the oil company's proposal to construct and operate the Liberty project, an offshore oil and gas operation in the Beaufort Sea. If approved it would be the first oil production in federal waters in the Arctic Ocean.

In today's letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace explained that Hilcorp's uncontrolled leak in Cook Inlet — currently spewing up to an estimated 215,000 cubic feet of gas per day into the inlet from an offshore pipeline — demonstrates that the company is ill equipped to drill in the Arctic. The leak began in late December 2016, but was not discovered by Hilcorp until Feb. 7, 2017. Hilcorp says it cannot fix the leaking pipeline because of the presence of sea ice.

“If Hilcorp can't fix this leak because of sea ice, how can it possibly deal with a gas leak or oil spill in the dangerously unpredictable Arctic Ocean?” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The company's inability to stop this ongoing disaster in Cook Inlet confirms that there's simply no way to make the Liberty project safe.”

Federal regulators have given the company until May 1 to fix the leak or shut down the pipeline that powers Hilcorp's offshore oil drilling platforms. That schedule means the leak could last for over four months. Today's letter argues that the leak is the latest on a long list of reasons why the Liberty project is a bad idea and why the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act requires the agency to reject the project.

BP initiated the Liberty project more than 10 years ago, proposing to drill horizontal wells from the Alaskan coast to tap oil under the Beaufort Sea. That lease was transferred to Hilcorp, which wants to construct a nine-acre artificial island offshore, more than five miles of underwater oil pipelines and a huge gravel mine onshore.

A second letter, also sent to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management by the Center, argues that the ongoing leak in Cook Inlet shows why the agency must cancel its plans to auction off federal waters in Cook Inlet to oil companies. The proposed June 2017 lease sale is for more than 1 million acres in the northern part of the inlet, and includes areas within critical habitat for Cook Inlet beluga whales, which number only 340 individuals. The agency announced the proposed notice of sale on Feb. 24, in the midst of the ongoing leak.

“Cook Inlet beluga whales have suffered enough,” Monsell said. “While we still don't know what the lasting impacts of the Hilcorp methane leak on belugas will be, we do know that allowing more oil and gas drilling in the Inlet will further threaten these magnificent, critically endangered animals.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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