Cross-Inlet Oil Pipeline Proposed

Shaylon Cochran

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     Plans for a 29-mile pipeline underneath Cook Inlet were announced Wednesday.  Cook Inlet Energy, one of many new players in the area, is the company applying for a right-of-way lease from the Department of Natural Resources.  An underwater pipeline would solve several problems for Cook Inlet oil producers, but other concerns remain.

     What it is: a 29-mile, horseshoe-shaped, eight-inch line from Cook Inlet Energy’s Kustatan production facility on West Foreland Point, directly across the Inlet from Nikiski.  The line will travel south for several miles to avoid deep trenches and fast currents, and finally connect at the Tesoro Refinery in Nikiski.  

     The line’s maximum depth will be 200 feet, according to CIE’s project description, which also describes the project’s purpose as necessary to “bypass the aging infrastructure on the west side of Cook Inlet to eliminate risk of volcanic activity and ice movements to oil shipments.”

     That has been the main reason people have been pushing for a pipeline since Mt. Redoubt erupted last in 2009, exposing the risks associated with the nearby Drift River Storage Terminal.  With its storage capacity compromised after that eruption, tanker traffic in the Inlet increased to keep production moving from one side of the Inlet to the other.

     This summer, the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, or CIRCAC, released a position paper in support of a pipeline, which CIRCAC Executive Director Michael Munger said at the time would be much easier to manage in the event of a disaster or spill.

     “If there is going to be an accident in Cook Inlet marine vessel traffic, the highest environmental risk is tanker traffic,” Munger said, referring to an assessment study put out by CIRCAC.  "Ultimately what we’d like to see is the pipeline installed."

     Construction is scheduled for April through August of 2014.  The line will have the capacity to carry up to 90,000 barrels per day.  Cook Inlet oil production was about 10,000 barrels per day in 2011.  

     Hilcorp, who operates the Drift River Storage Terminal, could be one of the companies to benefit from the lowered costs of production anticipated to come with the new pipeline. Hilcorp spokesperson Lori Nelson told the Peninsula Clarion Wednesday that there are too many ‘ifs’ right now to speculate on any agreement, but that they encouraged CIE’s success on the project.

     While a pipeline mitigates the potential for oil spills in an increasingly busy production center, environmentalists and others still have plenty of concerns.  

     Bob Shavelson is the Director of Advocacy for the Cook Inlet Keeper.  A pipeline has been on their wish list for some time.  Despite what a pipeline might mean for tanker travel in the Inlet, he says regulations here still lag behind other parts of the state.

     “We’re really in sort of a regulatory backwater here and if there is a serious problem with a vessel that loses power or runs aground, we don’t have the capacity to really deal with that,” Shavelson said.

     Cook Inlet Energy estimates cost of the pipeline at $50 million.  The public has until February 4th to submit comments to the state pipeline coordinators office at spco.records.alaska.gov.

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