Another shadow on the horizon is a lawsuit filed this week by several environmental groups and the Chickaloon Native Village. It seeks to revoke Apache Alaska Corporation’s permit to explore for oil and gas in Cook Inlet.
Apache has about 800,000 acres and is one of the largest lease holders. The environmental groups object to Apache’s plans to conduct seismic testing to explore for oil.
“Seismic testing is basically a series of very loud noises,” said Rebecca Noblin, the Alaska director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “As we’re adding more activity to the Inlet, it’s putting more and more stress on belugas, and on fish, and on marine mammals.”
The lawsuit seeks to protect a dwindling population of about 280 belugas. Noblin says that seismic testing interferes with their hearing and ability to communicate, as well find prey.
Apache hopes to demonstrate that it can develop its prospects without harming the whales.
Lisa Parker, a representative of Apache Alaska, says the company plans to conduct aerial surveys before it operates in the water, to make sure there are no belugas nearby. She says, if whales are spotted, work will come to a halt.
Parker says Apache also has observers on board its exploration ships -- on the lookout for belugas and other marine mammals.
Cook Inlet oil production does have one thing in common with the belugas. It’s been in decline for a long time.
“Today, it’s at 10,000 barrels a day,” says Parker who says that’s a fraction of Cook Inlet’s historic highs of 227,000 barrels a day.
“But we believe it’s still to be found. And that’s why we’re there.”