Hilcorp delays seismic exploration in lower Cook Inlet

Hilcorp said it’s holding off on plans to conduct seismic exploration for oil and gas in lower Cook Inlet because of potential conflicts with halibut and salmon fishermen. The company also lacks a crucial permit to conduct the work, and it’s unclear when it may get the green light to move forward.

An oil rig in Cook Inlet, Feb. 22, 2009. (Creative Commons photo)

In Hilcorp’s permit application to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the company said it wants to update 40-year-old seismic data in a 370-square mile lease site offshore from Homer and Anchor Point.

Seismic data helps companies like Hilcorp locate untapped oil and gas deposits. But the sound waves used to capture the data can harm marine mammals and fish.

Hilcorp hoped to start its survey in lower Cook Inlet in late March, which concerned halibut charters like Mike Flores who fish in the area.

“In their own words, when they fire those air cannons off, there would be nothing within a couple miles of those air cannons going off,” he said. “They say everything would migrate to shallower waters. Wherever that thing would be working on a day-to-day basis, there would be no halibut.”

Commercial salmon fishermen have also raised concerns about the timing of the survey. Roland Maw of the Upper Cook Inlet Drift Association said returning and outgoing Cook Inlet salmon stocks generally pass through the area April through June.

“Those sound waves can actually be lethal to the fish, both adults and to the outgoing smolt, especially the outgoing smolt,” Maw added.

In an emailed statement, a Hilcorp spokesperson said the company was forced to start its 45-to-60-day survey in late March because of permitting delays caused by the recent federal government shutdown. The company said it’s now delaying the survey until after “the height of fishing and tourist season,” due to concerns raised by fishermen like Maw and Flores.

However, Hilcorp requested to begin the survey this spring when it filed for its permit with BOEM in October, long before the shutdown began in December and the approval of the permit is still pending.

The company canceled a community meeting in Homer this week and said it will update area residents once it has more information about the survey’s timeline.

Environmental advocates like Cook Inletkeeper’s Bob Shavelson want Hilcorp to hold a meeting before it begins work.

“From our perspective, it’s much better if Hilcorp sits down with fishermen and other user groups and talks about what’s the best timing,” he said, “what’s your local knowledge, what are the impacts going to be and how do we do this in a way that’s going to work collaborative with your groups and your interest?”

Still, the company will have to wait until BOEM approves its permit. That timeline is also unknown. However, under Hilcorp’s request, it could conduct the survey until Oct. 31.

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