By Bob Shavelson
Dear Commissioner Campbell:
I regret you were unable to come to Homer on your recent trip to the Kenai Peninsula to discuss the myriad concerns surrounding the jackup rig Endeavor, which is currently stored in the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area.
We join many local residents and businesses in our concern the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is failing to enforce relevant laws and policies related to the Endeavor, and is instead letting a foreign corporation dictate what can and cannot unfold in the public waters of Kachemak Bay. The Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area clearly prohibits the storage of drill rigs in the CHA:
“To avoid damage to fish and wildlife habitats, disturbance to fish and wildlife populations, and displacement of public use of Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area, drilling rig storage will not be allowed in the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area.”
This mandate came about after the disastrous episode involving the drilling rig George Ferris in Kachemak Bay in 1976, and resource managers and user groups alike recognized the inherent risks posed by drilling rig storage in Kachemak Bay. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game rightly recognized the prohibition on drilling rig storage in 2006.
Yet in 2011, ADFG attempted to unilaterally amend the Kachemak Bay CHA by claiming
“This policy (prohibiting rig storage in the CHA) historically referred to rig storage with legs down (in substrate), which had a direct impact on fish and wildlife habitat.”
However, ADFG never pointed to any example of such a “historical” interpretation of the no-rig-storage provision, and ADFG has produced no evidence prior to August 2011 it ever embraced such an interpretation.
A memorandum from Stewart Seaberg, ADFG habitat biologist, to Ben Greene, DNR oil, gas and energy projects manager (May 22, 2006) stated, “Please be advised that the storage of the drill rig within the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area in lower Cook Inlet is contrary to the KBCHA Management Plan.”
Now, instead, the evidence points to ADFG trying to amend the Kachemak Bay CHA in violation of state law, including but not limited to the Alaska Administrative Procedures Act.
If ADFG has any evidence of the so-called “historical” interpretation of the no-rig-storage provision prior to August 2011, please provide it; otherwise, please explain why ADFG violated the Kachemak Bay CHA by allowing the Endeavor drill rig to enter the CHA.
Regardless, on Sept. 16, Endeavor operators did in fact lower the rig’s legs into the substrate of the CHA during a wind storm. While Buccaneer and its media relations firm out of New York claim an “emergency” existed, the entire episode – including the parting of lines to the rig, the damage to the Homer deep water dock and the heightened risks to fish, wildlife and people from an over turned rig – these events were entirely foreseeable. That’s because jack-up drilling rigs are inherently dangerous and notoriously unstable.
The Alaska Legislature created CHA’s “to protect and preserve habitat areas especially crucial to the perpetuation of fish and wildlife, and to restrict all other uses not compatible with that primary purpose.” Storage of jack-up drilling rigs in the Kachemak Bay CHA is inherently unsafe, threatens the very purposes of the CHA and is prohibited by law.
The issue of compliance with state critical habitat area management plans takes on added importance in light of ADFG’s recent decision to violate the Redoubt Bay CHA plan to allow Hilcorp to mine boulders and fill a salmon stream so it can resume storing oil at the base of an active volcano at the Drift River Terminal.
Thank you for your attention to this important issue. I look forward to your response, and to your availability to come to Homer to discuss this issue in a public setting in the near future.
Bob Shavelson is the director of advocacy at Cook Inletkeeper. This letter was submitted to Cora Campbell, the commission of Fish and Game on Sept. 21.
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