Proposed LNG Pipeline has environmental watchdog concerned about Beluga Whales

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — The proposed Alaska LNG Project has an environmental watchdog group concerned about possible harm to the Cook Inlet Beluga population.

Alaska LNG's Pipeline project would make natural gas more accessible to Alaskans as well as global markets, but it would have to carve a path straight into the heart of the Beluga habitat in Cook Inlet.

"Sound is the Beluga's primary sense for communication and to find prey,” Environmental Investigation Agency policy analyst Daniel Hubbell said. “High enough levels of sound can be potentially fatal. It can cause physical injury, permanent hearing damage."

The sound they're most worried about is from the pile drivers that will be used during the pipeline construction.

The Endangered Species Act prohibits the "take" of listed species through direct harm or habitat destruction. The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation has to apply for an incidental taking permit, proving minimal harm to the endangered species, in order to build in the Beluga habitat.

“Even though we have requested authorization for up to 32 take, or incidental non-lethal harassment, that doesn't mean we're going to take 32," Alaska Gasline Development Corporation environmental lead Kalb Stevenson said.

The AGDC released an application for review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year outlining the potentially harmful impact to the whales.

"I think this was a poorly done process that's raised far more questions than it's answered. We're in general opposed to how this permit has been conducted," Hubell said.

AGDC says the original report estimated high numbers before they had taken a closer look at the types of pile driving the project calls for.

“Over the last year, our engineers have really worked to get those finer details," Stevenson said.

NOAA Wildife Biologist Verena Gill is happy the EIA is worried about the whales, but she thinks it's a little early for concern.

"Certainly we can always do a better job. That requires getting more information, more funding. And there's always more to learn about Belugas," Gill said.

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