Federal government moves toward Cook Inlet oil lease sale

Cook Inlet oil platforms are visible from shore near Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The federal government has released a draft environmental impact statement on an oil and gas lease sale in Cook Inlet, tentatively scheduled for late 2021.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is planning to solicit bids on over 1 million acres in the inlet’s federal waters, which includes anything more than three miles offshore. The agency first published its notice of intent in September and released the EIS draft Wednesday.

Some fishermen and conservationists say that wasn’t enough time.

“We’ve never before seen an environmental impact statement rammed through in such a short time,” said Bob Shavelson, advocacy director of Cook Inletkeeper. “When you look at something like a three month time period, it’s not going to be adequate to understand really what the impacts are.”

The area of the proposed Cook Inlet sale, covering just over 1 million acres, is outlined in yellow. Blocks outlined in green were purchased by Hilcorp Alaska LLC in the last sale. (via Bureau of Ocean Energy Management)

The bureau spent almost two years drafting a statement prior to the last federal lease sale, in 2017.

But since that sale, the Trump administration has set both time and page limits on federal environmental impact statements. An August 2017 order from the Secretary of the Interior requires bureaus to complete final statements within a year of issuing a notice of intent.

Still, Alaska Region spokesperson John Callahan said the bureau completed the draft EIS with due diligence.

“Of course we’re always hoping for input, that’s the whole purpose for producing a draft,” he said. “And we’d like to have the Cook Inlet communities look at it, or view it, and let us know what they think.”

Callahan said the process could also move faster because the bureau was able to work off of the 2017 draft. While each environmental impact statement is different, he said it helped to have that framework.

The bureau hasn’t decided for certain whether it will hold the sale. It canceled lease sales in 2006, 2008 and 2010 due to lack of interest. Hilcorp Alaska LLC has been the sole bidder in both state and federal lease sales in the inlet for several years, including in 2017, when the company picked up 14 tracts for over $3 million. The company currently owns all the federal leases in the inlet.

The bureau will hold public hearings in February before drawing up the final environmental impact statement. To submit public comments, visit boem.gov/CookInlet2021.

This story has been corrected to fix a transcription error in a quotation from John Callahan.