The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has announced a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analyzing the possible environmental impacts of the activities proposed in an offshore oil and gas development and production plan (DPP) submitted by Hilcorp Alaska in September 2015.
Under what is called the Liberty Project, Hilcorp proposes to build a small artificial gravel island in the shallow (19 feet) federal waters of the Beaufort Sea, about 20 miles east of Prudhoe Bay. To be located about five miles off the coast in Foggy Island Bay, the 9-acre site would be similar in nature to the four oil- and gas-producing artificial islands currently operating in the area’s state waters (Spy Island, Northstar Island, Endicott Island, and Oooguruk Island).
Hilcorp plans to install a “pipe-in-pipe” subsea pipeline to deliver oil to shore. The offshore portion of the pipeline will be laid in a trench, then buried. It will include automatic leak-detection and temperature-monitoring technology. Onshore the pipeline would connect with the Badami pipeline which connects with the existing oil and gas infrastructure at Prudhoe Bay. While the island location is near shore, no permanent road or causeway will connect Liberty Island to the mainland. Personnel and equipment will be transported via helicopter or boat.
A DPP describes development and production activities proposed by an operator for a lease or group of leases. The description includes the timing of these activities, information concerning drilling methods, the location of each proposed well or production platform or other structure, and an analysis of both offshore and onshore impacts that may occur as a result of the plan's implementation.
In its project design, Hilcorp included measures to mitigate potential impacts and the company will also be required to comply with all stipulations associated with their three federal leases. The mitigation measures that the federal government will require of Hilcorp will be determined during the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process and Endangered Species Act consultations, resulting in Biological Opinions, Marine Mammal Protection Act authorizations, and other permits that must be obtained from the Federal regulatory agencies.
Hilcorp’s DPP commits the company to several actions to minimize disruption to subsistence activities – including whaling – that play a vital role in the lives and cultures of Alaska Native communities along the Arctic coast, and BOEM continues to be committed to protecting this unique way of life. For example, potentially noisy activities will be scheduled to avoid the spring and fall whale migration periods, and flight activities will be arranged to avoid hunting areas. Significantly, Hilcorp has committed to signing a Conflict Avoidance Agreement with local whaling groups to engage with the whalers to protect subsistence activities.
The publication of the draft EIS opens a 90-day public comment period, which extends through 18 November 2017. During this time, BOEM will conduct public hearings and accept comments. The input received via this process will be used to inform preparation of the final EIS. The draft EIS and instructions for commenting may be found here.