The push to drill in the Arctic just became a reality. The Trump administration approved Hilcorp Alaska’s controversial production plan to build the Liberty Project in The Beaufort Sea, a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean.
Located just north the Yukon and Alaska and west of Canada’s Arctic islands, the project would consist of a “nine-acre artificial island with a 24-acre footprint in about 20 feet of water and a 5.6-mile pipeline under Arctic waters to send the oil into onshore pipelines,” according to a press release. When completed, it will be the first oil and gas production facility in federal waters off the coast of Alaska.
But environmentalists are weary of the project citing the risk of oil spills in The Beaufort Sea would endanger Arctic wildlife and communities.
“Opening the Arctic to offshore oil drilling is a disaster waiting to happen,” Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity. “This project sets us down a dangerous path of destroying the Arctic. An oil spill in the Arctic would be impossible to clean up and the region is already stressed by climate change.”
Yet Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that “American energy dominance is good for the economy, the environment, and our national security.”
The Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) wrote:
BOEM used a rigorous evaluation process based on the best and most recent science available to evaluate the safety and environmental impacts of the Liberty Project. The plan was conditionally approved only after incorporating input from the public, and from North Slope communities and tribal organizations. As the project moves forward, BOEM will continue to work with Hilcorp to ensure all appropriate safeguards are stringently applied.
Approval conditions include: restricted drilling into the hydrocarbon-bearing zone, which may occur only during times of solid ice conditions; seasonal restrictions on activities and vessel traffic to reduce potential disturbance to Cross Island subsistence whaling activities; and obtaining all required permits from other state and federal agencies.
According to the press release, much concern has grown over the past year surrounding Hilcorp’s ability to build and manage the project after “an underwater gas pipeline in Alaska’s Cook Inlet leaked for nearly four months because the company said the presence of sea ice prevented its repair.”
“If this company can’t prevent or stop a gas leak in the Cook Inlet, it has no business in the Beaufort Sea,” Miyoko Sakashita, the oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, wrote last year, Medium reported.
The company is also the most heavily fined oil company in Alaska as state officials stated Hilcorp’s “disregard for regulatory compliance is endemic to Hilcorp’s approach to its Alaska operations,” according to the press release.
“We’ll keep fighting this project and any new ones that follow,” Monsell said. “We won’t passively watch the oil industry and this inept administration harm Arctic wildlife and leave a legacy of climate chaos.”