Beluga whale pod. Photo credit: Laura Morse/ NOAA

340 Beluga Whales Threatened by Another Pipeline Leak in Alaska's Cook Inlet

Hilcorp Alaska reported Saturday an oil leak from a pipeline in Alaska's Cook Inlet. The oil spilled from the offshore pipeline south of Tyonek is in a critical habitat for the gravely endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales, whose numbers have dwindled to 340 individuals. This leak is unrelated to the gas leak from another one of its pipelines that has been ongoing since December.

"At first, I hoped that news of this latest oil leak was an April fool's joke because it seemed like Hilcorp couldn't spring another leak so soon," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. We're really worried about what this means for Cook Inlet belugas with the double whammy of an oil spill and gas leak in the same season."

The cause of the leak is unknown and oil sheens have been reported in the area. The company said it has shut-in production at the platforms, known as Anna and Bruce, that are connected by the leaking pipeline. Reports this morning confirm that the leak has stopped, but the risk to wildlife is unknown. These platforms were installed in 1966 and aging infrastructure and severe tides in the Cook Inlet make them vulnerable to incidents. The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has also repeatedly cited Hilcorp for violating safety regulations for its oil and gas operations in the state.

"It's clear that there's no safe way to drill for oil in the ocean. This is the same company that plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, a place that is much more dangerous for oil drilling with severe storms and ice," Sakashita said. "Hilcorp keeps springing leaks in Cook Inlet and it should certainly not be allowed to build the Liberty project in the Beaufort Sea."

The Center for Biological Diversity has sent Hilcorp a 60-day notice of its intent to sue for the ongoing gas leak and it is monitoring the new oil leak to determine whether legal action is warranted.

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