McKibben Jackinsky. (Photo by Janelle Orth)

McKibben Jackinsky. (Photo by Janelle Orth)

Voices of the Peninsula: Don’t let Big Oil shut you up

We’ve all attended meetings where QA is the final agenda item.

It was a packed house at Land’s End Resort on Aug. 22. Homer, Anchor Point, Nanwalek and Ninilchik residents wanted details about Hilcorp’s plan for seismic testing in the southern Cook Inlet. The project’s been permitted and scheduled for September and October.

In addition to its North Slope operations, Hilcorp is recognized as Cook Inlet’s largest oil and natural gas producer. The privately owned, Texas-based company bought and kept aging platforms producing, reworked onshore wells, purchased private property for development, picked up additional leases, and contributed to communities to promote good will.

Hilcorp also had an employee die at Milne Point, three North Slope workers almost die, leaks that continued for months, and multiple violations resulting in fines. Hilcorp’s peninsula activities have decreased next-door property values and robbed neighbors of peace, quiet and, in some cases, health.

We’ve all attended meetings where Q&A is the final agenda item and before you know it there’s only five minutes left and, sorry, no time for questions. That wasn’t going to work Friday night. People had comments to share and questions to be answered.

We countered disputable research presented to favor Hilcorp’s plans. We questioned Hilcorp’s safety record, dissatisfied with the project manager’s response that he was new to Hilcorp and unfamiliar with Hilcorp’s past.

When Hilcorp described plans to observe and, hypothetically, avoid sea life, we pointed out that the company’s plan for working round-the-clock meant nighttime observations were useless. It was inexcusable, when asked about the link between the area’s razor clam population crash, previous seismic work and the proven detrimental impacts of sound on marine invertebrates, for Hilcorp’s fishery expert to say, “I’m not going there.” And attempts to shame the audience with the senseless reminder we operated petroleum-fueled vehicles made us groan.

Unable to keep up with the questions and comments, the moderator, a Hilcorp contractor, attempted to silence us by calling the police.

Four days later headlines announced BP’s sale of its Alaska properties to Hilcorp. The state’s congressional team welcomed Hilcorp to a larger role in Alaska’s energy industry.

Former state representative Les Gara, a proponent of increasing taxes on the oil industry, reminded us that as a privately held “S” corporation, Hilcorp’s purchase of BP’s properties would mean an annual loss of $25-$65 million for the state.

Bob Shavelson of Cook Inletkeeper noted Hilcorp’s unrepentance for its lack of regard for safety and the environment. Cook Inletkeeper posted on Facebook an investigative piece about Hilcorp written by John Dougherty for The Revelator that detailed Hilcorp’s four-month pipeline leak in the inlet, causing the release of 210,000-310,000 cubic feet of methane per day.

Ceal Smith of Alaska Climate Action Network said, “BP’s $5.6 billion asset dump on Hilcorp, a tax-exempt, subsidy-dependent, proven Bad Actor, signals a devastating and dramatic end to Alaska’s half-century fossil fuel affair. Alaskans will need to press legislators and state regulators hard to minimize the damage and get cracking on the transition to a diverse and just clean energy transition or else suffer huge losses and a failed future.”

BP’s Alaska interests include 49% ownership of the trans-Alaska Pipeline. Safe passage of oil across the state will now rest on the shoulders of a company the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission described as having a level of disregard for regulatory compliance that is “endemic to Hilcorp’s approach to its Alaska operations.”

Author Kurt Vonnegut said, “Sometimes the pool pah exceeds the ability of humans to comment.”

Now is not that time.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is requesting public comments until Sept. 16 on Hilcorp’s seismic work planned for Cook Inlet over the course of the five years (2019-2024), specifically comments about Hilcorp’s request to have less scrutiny by marine mammal observers at night. See: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/incidental-take-authorization-hilcorp-alaska-llc-oil-and-gas-activities-cook-inlet-alaska.

Submit comments, write letters, make phone calls and send emails to federal and state decision makers. Ask questions. Demand answers. Vote.

Don’t be intimidated into silence. There’s too much at stake.

McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer and author of “Too Close To Home? Living with ‘drill baby’ on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.” She can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@gmail.com.

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