Environmental Group Sues Over Seismic Work in Cook Inlet

Oral arguments are being heard Friday in US District Court in Anchorage for a lawsuit that challenges the decision made by the National Marine Fisheries Service to authorize the first of at least three years of seismic exploration in Cook Inlet.

The lead plaintiff in the case, the Native Village of Chickaloon, is concerned that the air guns Apache Corporation plans to use to conduct the seismic tests will disturb the habitat of the remaining population of Beluga whales in Cook Inlet.

The sounds of waves crashing that we land lovers hear from the shore or on a boat is just a small sample of the dynamic soundscape under the surface. The team at Ocean Conservation Research has a sound library and you can hear what the whales sound like (a little like R2-D2), and what the air guns sound like, and also what they sound like from 1,500 miles away.

The plaintiff’s suit seeks to rescind NMFS’s decision to allow Apache Corporation to proceed with seismic testing using those air guns, which court documents say generate sound levels in excess of 200 decibels.

“Basically, what we’re asking the federal government to do is go back to the drawing board on this one,” said Rebecca Noblin, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups representing the Village, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Take back its authorization to do the surveys, take a look at the science again and we would say don’t issue another authorization unless there’s some way they can mitigate all the impacts,” Noblin said.

A call was made to Apache spokesperson Lisa Parker for their take on the proceedings, but, as Apache is an intervenor in the case, she declined to comment.

The plaintiff’s suit contends that the decision violates portions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act and would effect and possibly endanger populations of Stellar sea lions, killer whales, harbor porpoises, harbor seals, fish and Cook Inlet Belugas.

For oral arguments, the Court is asking both sides to explain the legal impact of this case for future development in Cook Inlet, what the most important studies are regarding impacts to marine life and how important is the fact that in the first year of survey activities, there were no ‘takes’ as a result of the survey work.

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Shaylon Cochran is a host and reporter at KDLL in Kenai. He’s reported on fishing, energy, agriculture and local politics since coming to Alaska in 2011. He has worked at KDLL/KBBI on the Kenai Peninsula, where he picked up lots of new hobbies, like smoking salmon, raising chickens, skiing and counting RV’s. He holds a bachelors degree in Journalism from Iowa State University.

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