Pipeline owner Hilcorp, already under fire for an ongoing gas leak in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, is now dealing with another oil spill in the same pristine body of water that’s home to a diversity of marine life, including an endangered population of beluga whales.
The new Hilcorp Alaska pipeline spill was discovered Saturday as a sheen spread across the surface that dissipated shortly after being spotted. Hilcorp said it shut down the 8-inch diameter oil line, which runs for miles on the floor of Cook Inlet between two production platforms.
Hilcorp said it removed all oil from the pipeline and no additional sheens were spotted from the air during flyovers on Sunday and Monday. The company said that based on the size of the sheen on the surface, it estimated that just three gallons of oil were released.
Although the estimated size of the spill is minuscule, it points to other pipeline hazards and looming disasters in a body of water that’s home and habitat to humpback whales, Stellar sea lions, northern sea otters, harbor seals, killer whales, porpoise, and a spectrum of fish species and other marine life.
Last month, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) ordered Hilcorp to either repair another of its Cook Inlet pipelines leaking methane gas by May 1 or shut the line down completely.
Hicorp’s gas leak in Cook Inlet was discovered on Feb. 7, but PHMSA regulators determined that the leak had been ongoing since some time in December 2016.
On March 25, Hilcorp agreed to temporarily shut down oil production at the two Cook Inlet platforms connected to the natural gas fuel line so that it could repair the line.
The methane pipeline leak raises concerns about an old crude pipeline that runs alongside the leaking methane pipeline. The oil pipeline is identical to the methane pipeline in many ways and is subject to the same environmental and geographical stresses.
The recent oil leak stems from a third Hilcorp pipeline, a further indication that the company’s pipelines pose a real and immediate threat to Cook Inlet’s marine life as well as local residents who rely on the inlet for fishing.
Kristin Ryan, director of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Spill Prevention and Response told Alaska’s Energy Desk that Hilcorp’s multiple leaking pipelines in Cook Inlet could be a byproduct of its business model.
“Hilcorp owns a lot of infrastructure that’s old. That is part of their business model,” Ms. Ryan told Alaska’s Energy Desk. “They come in and they purchase old infrastructure and they keep it working. So it’s not completely surprising that they’ve had more failures than other operators.”