State demands Hilcorp monitor environmental impact of Cook Inlet gas leak

Still from footage taken by a helicopter of a gas leak in Cook Inlet, obtained by the environmental group Cook Inletkeeper. (Image courtesy Cook Inletkeeper)

The state is asking oil and gas company Hilcorp to dramatically step up environmental monitoring near a natural gas leak in Cook Inlet.

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The Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, says the company needs to be prepared to “evacuate the line,” which could include shutting down wells, by March 13, depending on monitoring results.

The gas leak, discovered Feb. 7, is releasing natural gas at a rate of 210,000 to 310,000 cubic feet per day, according to Hilcorp.

The company has said ice conditions in Cook Inlet won’t allow for beginning repairs on the line until mid- to late March.

DEC sent a letter Feb. 27 to the company, which said it’s “imperative” Hilcorp begin monitoring for potential fish and wildlife impacts and perform regular air and water quality sampling.

The state is asking the company to use trained observers to look for dead fish, birds and marine mammals in the area.

Cook Inlet is critical habitat for an endangered population of beluga whales. DEC also wants acoustic monitoring near the site to determine how far the sound of the leaking gas extends under water.

Hilcorp has until March 8 to come up with a monitoring plan.