Industry, environmental groups speak out as Hilcorp paves the way for drilling in federal Arctic waters

A 3-D rendering of Hilcorp’s proposed Liberty project as represented in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s draft environmental impact statement. (Image elizabeth

Regulators are taking input on what could be the nation’s first oil production platform in federal Arctic waters.

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The oil and gas company Hilcorp wants to build a gravel island in shallow waters in the Beaufort Sea, east of Prudhoe Bay. The Liberty project would be similar to several gravel islands built to produce oil in nearby state waters.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, held its last hearing in Anchorage, on Tuesday, asking the public to weigh in as it prepares its environmental impact statement.

Many of the speakers were from industry or trade groups, who all argued in favor of the project.

“The Liberty Project represents a positive step towards perpetuation of the oil and gas industry in Alaska by curtailing oil production decline at this crucial time in Alaska’s history,”  Bob Stinson said. He’s with Price Gregory, a company constructs pipelines.

Most of the speakers echoed Stinson, saying the Liberty project would give a much-needed boost to the trans-Alaska pipeline. The pipeline is now running at about 500,000 barrels per day. Hilcorp plans to produce up to 70,000 barrels per day from Liberty.

There were a few dissenters. Protesters with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, briefly held up a banner in the hallway reading, “NO ARCTIC DRILLING.” During the hearing, the Center’s Blake Kopcho argued Hilcorp’s record in Alaska should disqualify it from a project in the Arctic Ocean.

“Hilcorp has a documented history of accidents and safety violations, which heighten the numerous inherent risks with offshore drilling in the Arctic,” Kopcho said.

Hilcorp was responsible for a months-long natural gas leak in Cook Inlet this spring.

The company did get a vote of confidence from a top state regulator. Andy Mack, who leads the state Department of Natural Resources, delivered the final public remarks.

“There’s no doubt — there’s no doubt at all — that the economic benefits are substantial,” Mack said. “It’s one of the projects in Alaska that’s been studied very, very extensively and I think that it’s a good project.”

The public comment period for the Liberty Project ends November 18.

Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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