Natural gas from a 52-year-old underwater pipeline has been leaking for at least two weeks into Cook Inlet in Alaska, home to a number of endangered species, including beluga whales.
The company that owns the pipeline, Hilcorp, has said that the pipeline cannot be shut down without posing additional risk to the environment or employee safety because stopping the flow could trigger a crude oil leak. The 8-inch pipeline, which carries natural gas from shore to four offshore oil platforms, is leaking an estimated 210,000 to 310,000 cubic feet of natural gas each day, according to the company.
“It’s a fairly decent sized ongoing leak of methane, especially when it’s unclear when they’ll actually get it shut down,” said Carl Weimer, the executive director of the nonprofit Pipeline Safety Trust. “Lots of methane going in the air is a concern as well as how it might be messing with the habitat.”
Attempts at a response by the company and by federal and state agencies have been hindered by weather conditions and ice, which has kept divers from reaching the source. The leak was first spotted around 3 p.m. on Feb. 7, when a Hilcorp helicopter pilot flying between the town of Nikiski and its offshore oil Platform A spotted bubbles on the water’s surface. An hour later, Hilcorp reported the leak to the National Response Center and to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is investigating and monitoring the leak, but has been unable to reach it. Other federal, state and local agencies are investigating and will be involved in the response, which includes daily flights over the source (weather permitting) and observations of wildlife to determine any impacts from the leak.