Enviros, Native group sue over Cook Inlet exploration
Environmental groups and an Alaska Native village filed a lawsuit May 16 in an Alaska federal court contesting a permit issued to Houston-based Apache Corp. to allow the company to conduct an offshore seismic survey in Cook Inlet over the next three to five years beginning this summer.
The seismic work will endanger a small population of endangered Beluga whales in the Inlet, according to the action filed by the Natural Resource Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Water Advocacy and the Native Village of Chickaloon.
Chickaloon is on the Glenn Highway north of Palmer, about 75 miles inland from Cook Inlet. The small village does not normally engage in hunting the Beluga whales but its chief, Gary Harrison, said the village is still concerned about industry activity that may affect them.
“Belugas are sacred to my tribe and part of our tradition,” Harrison said in the NRDC statement.
Environmental groups typically recruit an Alaska Native group in lawsuits against industry to add credibility to their challenges.
The permit issued to Apache by the National Marine Fisheries Services includes an Incidental Take Authorization, which will allow the company to conduct seismic operations that could affect the Belugas, according to the lawsuit. NRDC and its co-plaintiffs argue there are only 280 of the whales left.
“Each year there are fewer and fewer of these whales left. Oil and gas activities expose Cook Inlet beluga whales to ear-splitting underwater noise that threaten their survival,” said Taryn Kiekow, a staff attorney with the NRDC, in a statement.
The suit challenges Apache’s use of a marine airgun which generates high-intensity sound pulses of greater that 235 decibels at the source. The sounds will interfere with the whales’ own use of sonic calls to communicate and would affect foraging and other behavior, NRDC said the lawsuit.
Apache Corp. spokeswoman Lisa Parker said the company has no comment on the lawsuit.
Apache is engaged in an extensive multi-year onshore and offshore seismic survey of the Cook Inlet region that is intended to guide the company’s exploration of state oil and gas leases it owns.
Apache has completed the onshore survey of west Cook Inlet leases it owns, plans to begin the offshore marine survey this summer and plans an onshore survey on the Inlet’s east side this fall and winter, company spokeswoman Parker said.