Liberty Would Be First Offshore Drilling Project in Federal Arctic Waters
ANCHORAGE—The Trump administration Thursday announced the issuance of federal take permits that would allow Hilcorp Alaska to kill or seriously injure 14 whales and nine ice seals as it constructs the Liberty offshore drilling island. The controversial project would be the first offshore drilling development in federal Arctic waters.
The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups filed a lawsuit challenging the project’s approval. They are currently awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit following a hearing last month. Liberty would disturb important habitat, fuel global warming and risk oil spills in hazardous, remote Arctic waters.
“Killing endangered marine mammals is just the beginning of the terrible damage this project would do. It starts with dead whales and ice seals and likely ends with oil spills and climate chaos,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney for the Center. “Hilcorp has a bad safety record in Alaska and it shouldn’t be allowed to work in the harsh and unforgiving Arctic region. The Liberty project is an accident waiting to happen.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service says it will formally issue permits Friday allowing Hilcorp to harm marine mammals during a five-year period that begins Dec. 1, 2021. Endangered species that will be subjected to potentially lethal Level A harm include two bowhead whales and five ringed seals.
The permit also allows Hilcorp to harass and harm — categorized as Level B impacts — 26 bowhead whales, 120 beluga whales, 10 grey whales, 411 ringed seals, 62 bearded seals and 62 spotted seals.
Hilcorp Alaska LLC’s Liberty project involves construction of a nine-acre artificial island with a 24-acre footprint in about 20 feet of water and a 5.6-mile pipeline under Arctic waters to send the oil into onshore pipelines.
Ironically, construction has already been delayed by a lack of stable shoreline sea ice in the rapidly warming Arctic region. The past five years have been the hottest on record as the Arctic heats up at twice the global warming rate. Climate change is driven by pollution from fossil fuels.
Hilcorp has been the most heavily fined oil company in Alaska in recent years, with state regulators writing that “disregard for regulatory compliance is endemic to Hilcorp’s approach to its Alaska operations.”