Dunleavy administration wants to join court case in defense of Hilcorp’s search for Cook Inlet oil

Hilcorp’s Anna Platform in Upper Cook Inlet. (Photo courtesy Lighthawk Volunteer Pilot Kirk Johnson)

Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration is joining a legal battle against environmental organizations, in support of a company that’s searching for oil in Cook Inlet.

Cook Inletkeeper and the Center for Biological Diversity, in September, challenged federal regulators’ decision to allow oil company Hilcorp to incidentally harass whales and other marine mammals as it uses seismic airguns to search for underwater oil formations in Cook Inlet.

Now, Dunleavy’s administration has asked a federal judge for permission to intervene in the lawsuit in defense of Hilcorp’s exploration program.

“Unjustified efforts to stop or delay such exploration and development have a direct negative economic impact on Alaska and its citizens in the form of lost employment and tax revenues,” Dunleavy’s administration said in a 21-page motion to intervene filed Wednesday. “Alaska’s Constitution imposes a duty on the state to responsibly manage and develop Alaska’s natural resources for the maximum benefit of its people. Plaintiffs’ claims interfere with this duty and set a precedent that may adversely impact future oil and gas exploration and development.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Law, Maria Bahr, declined to comment beyond the court filing.

Related: Whale researchers express deep concern over Hilcorp’s seismic survey

The decision by Dunleavy’s administration to join the lawsuit comes at a time when Hilcorp is the focus of new public scrutiny, as it seeks regulatory approval for its acquisition of BP’s assets in Alaska, which would make it one of the state’s largest oil companies.

Bob Shavelson, Cook Inletkeeper’s advocacy director, drew a connection between the administration’s effort to join the lawsuit and a $25,000 donation to a political group that supports the governor that Hilcorp made in January, two months after Dunleavy was sworn in.

Related: Read more about Hilcorp in Alaska

“Why would somebody donate that money to something supporting Dunleavy after the election if it wasn’t to have political influence?” Shavelson said. “And this is exactly the type of influence you get when you make those donations.”

The state’s motion to intervene must still be approved by the federal judge overseeing the case, Sharon Gleason. She issued an order allowing Hilcorp to intervene in the case last month.