Feds to study impacts of potential oil and gas lease sale in Alaska’s Cook Inlet

A map of Alaska's Cook Inlet outlines the 1 million acres in the northern part of the waters where a proposed federal oil and gas lease sale could occur.
The proposed lease sale area in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is studying the environmental impacts any oil and gas drilling in the area could have on the area. (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management)

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced Wednesday that it plans to study the environmental impacts of a potential lease sale in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.

It would be the first federal oil and gas lease sale in the Cook Inlet since 2017. While there are oil and gas production platforms in state waters in the inlet, off Alaska’s southcentral coast, there are none in its federal waters right now, according to the bureau.

The potential lease sale would cover about 1 million acres of the inlet, and be held next year.

Before any lease sale occurs, the bureau said, it will analyze the impacts of leasing, exploration, development and production in the area. It’s also asking the public to weigh in on the proposed sale

“We especially need to hear from residents of the communities along Cook Inlet as to how the proposed leasing area is currently being used and what specific areas need extra attention,” James Kendall, regional director of the bureau’s Alaska office, said in a statement. 

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, criticized the proposed lease sale in a statement Wednesday. It said the government should protect the beluga whales in the inlet and do more to combat climate change instead of offering more federal waters to the oil industry.

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The bureau said 13 exploration wells were drilled in the inlet’s federal waters between 1978 and 1985, and all have since been plugged and abandoned. During the last federal lease sale in the inlet, in 2017, Hilcorp acquired 14 leases. 

Before that, a lease sale in December 2010 was canceled because of a lack of industry interest.

The bureau estimates that the federal area of Cook Inlet contains 810 million barrels of oil and 330 billion cubic feet of natural gas that can be produced based on economic conditions and technology. 

Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8447.