Group says fracking will harm endangered beluga whale

  • By Dan Joling
  • Wednesday, June 22, 2016 10:12pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — A national environmental group on Wednesday asked federal fisheries officials to block an oil company’s plans for offshore hydraulic fracturing underneath Alaska’s Cook Inlet because of the threat to the inlet’s population of endangered beluga whales.

The Center for Biological Diversity in a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service said fracking increases risks of spills, earthquakes and toxic pollutants to belugas, which were declared endangered in 2008.

“Offshore fracking poses a grave and imminent threat to critically endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales,” said center attorney Kristen Monsell.

The chief executive officer of the company, BlueCrest Energy, said he doesn’t even consider the plans to be offshore drilling.

Fort Worth, Texas-based BlueCrest’s well will be on shore, said CEO Benjamin Johnson. The company will drill horizontally up to four miles to reach deep oil deposits and create fractures of about 200 feet, said CEO Benjamin Johnson.

“We are not in a beluga-critical habitat, by the way, but nevertheless, there would be absolutely no impact to any marine animals by us fracking — putting a fracture in the ground that’s a couple of hundred feet thick — over a mile and a half below the surface of the sea floor,” he said.

National Marine Fisheries Service spokeswoman Julie Speegle said the letter was just received and has not been reviewed.

Monsell called for the federal agency to block drilling plans until it had considered the effects of hydraulic fracturing.

A ruling from a federal judge late Tuesday in Wyoming that federal regulators lack authority to set rules for hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, would not affect NMFS authority to protect whales, Monsell said.

“The agency has broad, independent authority to take actions to protect endangered species from harm, and NMFS should exercise that authority,” she said.

Hydraulic fracturing is the extraction of oil and gas from rock through injection of high-pressure mixtures of water, sand and chemicals.

Cook Inlet stretches 180 miles from Anchorage to the Gulf of Alaska and is home to one of five beluga populations in U.S. waters. Beluga whales, which turn white as adults, feed on salmon, smaller fish, crab, shrimp, squid and clams.

The Cook Inlet beluga population dwindled steadily through the 1980s and early ‘90s. The decline accelerated between 1994 and 1998 when Alaska Natives harvested nearly half the remaining 650 whales in only four years.

NMFS officials last year said population estimates have ranged from 278 to 375 animals in the last decade. The overall trend showed the beluga population was not recovering and in decline at an annual average rate of 0.4 percent.

More in News

A sign warning of a June 28, 2021, bear attack is placed at the head of the Kenai River Trail on Skilak Loop Road in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on June 30, 2021. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Federal wildlife officers seek information about early-May black bear poaching

Officials think the poaching happened near the east entrance of Skilak Loop roughly 2 miles from Jims’ Landing

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Ninilchik woman dead after Tuesday collision

The woman was attempting to cross the Sterling Highway from Oil Well Road when she was struck by a pickup truck

Graduates listen to Connections Homeschool Principal Doug Hayman speak during the school’s commencement ceremony on Thursday in Soldotna. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Graduates listen to Connections Homeschool Principal Doug Hayman speak during the school’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 16, 2024 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Expect a lot from yourself and from others’

Connections Homeschool students accept diplomas at commencement ceremony

Graduates of Seward High School leave the gym at the end of their graduation ceremony on Wednesday.
‘Give people something to talk about’

Seward High School graduates 30

Kenai Police Chief David Ross speaks to Kenai City Council members about an ordinance that would repeal sections of city code that prohibit public sleeping and loitering and the city’s curfew on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai OKs repeal of loitering laws, curfew for minors

The policies, first enacted in 1978, are difficult to enforce and potentially violate citizens’ rights, according to the Kenai Police Department

Nikiski Middle/High School graduates throw their caps into the air at the conclusion of a graduation ceremony in the school’s gym in Nikiski, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Nikiski graduates ‘will always be a part of each other’s stories’

The graduates celebrated their time together and took a moment to anticipate the bright futures that lie ahead

A seal pup rescued from near Kenai beach is treated by the Alaska SeaLife Center’s Wildlife Response Program on May 9, 2024. (Photo courtesy Kaiti Grant/Alaska SeaLife Center)
SeaLife Center admits abandoned harbor seal pups

Both seals were found abandoned and malnourished, and both were born prematurely

Caitlin Babcock, left, and other graduates enter Soldotna High School’s commencement ceremony on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna sends off more than 140 graduates at Tuesday commencement

More than 140 students stepped off the Soldotna High School graduation stage… Continue reading

Most Read