Shooting sound into Cook Inlet

Aug 23, 2019

The project area map for Hilcorp's seismic survey beginning September 10, 2019
Credit Hilcorp

Seismic survey work in Lower Cook Inlet is scheduled to go forward this September.

Oil and gas company Hilcorp has announced plans for seismic mapping of about 200 square miles in the middle of Lower Cook Inlet near Homer beginning around September 10. Seismic mapping involves using soundwaves generated by a boat crossing Cook Inlet repeatedly, shooting the soundwaves to determine whether there may be oil or gas beneath Cook Inlet.

Hilcorp is one of the major oil companies operating in the inlet. This is its first venture into federal waters in Cook Inlet. The company bought federal leases for the area for about $4 million in 2017 and has been planning to explore there ever since.

Project manager Mike Dunn told the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday that the plan is to begin Sept. 10. He says there have been a handful of seismic surveys in the Lower Cook Inlet area over the past few decades, with many more in the more developed Upper Cook Inlet.
 "A seismic survey is nothing new. I should say the technology is a lot better now. We’re able to see the subsurface with a sort of resolution that can give us an idea of is there a structure down there and do we think there’s oil down there? But until we shoot the seismic program, we won’t know if we have drilling locations," said Dunn.
 

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which issued the permit for the exploration, said in a press release that that date may change a little based on weather, but the company has 60 days this fall to complete the seismic work. The vessel doing the survey will work 24 hours per day and will take between 4 and 10 hours to shoot a line, depending on weather and tides.

Wildlife, particularly fish and Cook Inlet’s endangered beluga whales, is a concern as Hilcorp moves forward with its plans. Beth Sharpe, a wildlife biologist with Hilcorp, said the company has contracted with Fairweather Science to put independent observers on board the ship to track wildlife sightings and interactions.
"We have people on watch on all the vessels at all times during operations, monitoring the entire areas of ensonification. And we have certain triggers for when we shut down operations if something comes into those areas," said Sharpe.

According to a press release from Hilcorp, no seismic activity will start unless no marine mammal has been spotted for a minimum of 30 minutes, and will shut down if one is spotted within the ensonification zone, or area where sound reaches.

The company is planning a public meeting at Land’s End in Homer
on Friday, Aug. 23 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The company is also hosting daily phone calls with subsistence users and local mariners with information about the vessel’s location and activities, starting Sept. 10 at 10 a.m. The phone number is 907-777-8599.

The company expects the seismic work to end by Oct. 31.