Cook Inletkeeper has asked the state to hold a public hearing on its claim that state certification of pollution discharges from Cook Inlet oil and gas facilities violates the U.S. Clean Water Act.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is taking comments on this hearing request until Nov. 24.
Tim Twomey, assistant state attorney general, said the state will file a comment — opposing the hearing request.
“The statement will argue that the state fulfilled its duties in ensuring that water-quality standards are met,” Twomey said.
Cook Inletkeeper, an environmental group, is also in federal court arguing against the discharges permit. In June 2007 the group, Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund, United Cook Inlet Drift Association and the Native villages of Port Graham and Nanwalek filed with the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s general permit for the discharges.
The permit allows most oil and gas production facilities around Cook Inlet to continue discharging drilling waste and produced water that remain within the specifications of the permit.
The state certifies that the discharges, if they meet federal standards, will also meet Alaska water-quality standards.
Cook Inletkeeper argues that the certification fails to ensure that state water-quality standards will be met.
Oil and gas production facilities in Cook Inlet have been discharging waste and produced water since the 1960s.
Although the EPA in 1995 brought in new zero-discharge standards for offshore oil installations, Cook Inlet platforms were exempted because: retrofitting them with new technology was impractical, the aging facilities had a limited life expectancy, and the discharges were within acceptable limits, said EPA attorney Courtney Hamamoto.
But Cook Inlet facilities must ensure that pollutants in their discharges remain within federal guidelines, said Dianne Soderlund, EPA program manager for the Alaska oil and gas sector.
When EPA renewed the Cook Inlet general permit in 2007, it retained the exemption from zero-discharge requirements. The exemption only applies to facilities built before 1993. Newer production facilities are not allowed to discharge drilling waste or produced water into Cook Inlet.
Cook Inletkeeper says the aging fields are producing more water with their oil and gas.
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