By Naomi Klouda
A protest against Buccaneer Energy on Fish Dock Road Halloween night, brought out 125 people dressed in costumes and ready to speak their minds about gas development plans by Buccaneer.
The event was organized by Cook Inletkeeper Advocate Bob Shavelson and other local environmentalists. Its pirate theme accuses Buccaneer of recklessness in its local development plans. A song by Johnny B litinized Buccaneer’s infringements, such as “You put your jack up rig’s legs down in a Critical Habitat Area,” then the repeating refrain: “Walk the plank.”
“Ultimately, (the message) is that we need Buccaneer to treat the community with more respect and to raise the bar on their operations. They have been shooting from the hip since they got here and that’s not acceptable when you consider the risk to our fisheries,” Shavelson said.
Mike O’Meara, a board member of Cook Inletkeeper and a founding member, recalled a time in the 1970s when giants Shell and Standard Oil moved into Kachemak Bay and another jackup rig, the George Ferris, came to symbolize the industry’s many mistakes. After oil spills and taking the matter to the Alaska Legislature, Homer people were able to halt drilling in Lower Cook Inlet.
“It may seem the odds are stacked against those who are against oil and gas development,” O’Meara said. “We can beat it. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.”
Shavelson said in his 17 years of scrutinizing oil and gas matters in Cook Inlet, he’s “never seen a company more disrespectful to a community.”
In the three decades since the Kachemak Critical Habitat Area was designated, people in Homer may have grown complacent, believing the area was protected from development.
Instead, the “fist of development plans have slowly closed around us,” he said.
Also alarming to Cook Inletkeeper is that the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has invested millions in public money in the jack-up rig venture.
“The million dollar question is whether Buccaneer’s just playing out another Ponzi scheme that will leave AIDEA and its Alaskan stakeholders holding the bag if things turn sour,” Shavelson said. He doesn’t feel AIDEA has been forthcoming about the true scope of its investment.
Buccaneer gave a presentation to AIDEA on Oct. 30, relating that it will have to forego drilling work this season due to the unexpected delays. AIDEA has issued no public statements to date.
Inletkeeper and those involved in the Halloween demonstration contend that during the two public meetings held in the Homer area “Buccaneer officials proved evasive, unresponsive and generally unknowledgeable about the challenging conditions found in winter time drilling operations in the waters of Lower Cook Inlet.”
They also fault the company for its tardy public meetings, held after a year and many months of plans had already been made.
A laundry list of complaints is stacking up from a large section of the community. Buccaneer told the City of Homer its rig would be in Kachemak Bay for eight days. That was 10 weeks ago.
According to Cook Inletkeeper, workers on the rig confirm that basic operating systems on the rig needed months of major repairs and upgrades. Then they said the rig would leave by Halloween, but now it could remain in Kachemak Bay all winter, because Buccaneer filed for its permits to drill off Anchor Point too late.
Buccaneer said it cleaned the rig of invasive species before it left Singapore, but when a mollusk sample was retrieved from the rig, they commissioned a report on the issue and kept it secret, Inletkeeper stated in its press release.
They said it was “unanticipated” that strong winds would kick-up in Kachemak Bay in the late Fall, causing them to lower the rig legs and violate state critical habitat laws. And they violated state and federal wetlands and fish protection laws by failing to get permits for over 850 seismic detonations around the Kenai River, according to Inletkeeper.
“Buccaneer elbowed its way into our community, and has done nothing to instill any confidence in its operations,” said local resident Andrew Peter. “They’ve been misleading and evasive, and they continue to keep us in the dark about important questions.”
Speakers at the rally encouraged participants to write letters to legislators and DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan, as well as make public comment by deadline coming up. Dates are posted later in this article.
More complaints about Buccaneer
On Oct. 29, several conservation and Alaskan Native groups submitted a Request for Adjudicatory Hearing related to the State of Alaska Division of Spill Prevention and Response (Division) Final Decision of the Plan Approval for Buccaneer Alaska, Inc.’s Oil Discharge Prevention and Contingency Plan
Called the C-Plan for short, this is the outline for how the company would react in case of an accident in Northern Cook Inlet.
The Groups include the Center for Water Advocacy, Alaska’s Big Village Network (ABVN), Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, Cook Inlet Marine Mammal Council. In their court filing, they say that the appeal is necessary because the C-Plan fails to protect the unique natural resources of Cook Inlet as required by the State’s Best Available Technology (BAT) standards as it applies to secondary relief well capacity.
The request also is an opportunity for local and statewide conservation groups, and fishing and hunting communities to address the public process and effectiveness of C-Plans in response to oil spill or blowout, the groups say in a press release.
“Alaska communities need assurance that the State of Alaska accepts adequate C-plans that protect aquatic habitat, multi-use fisheries of Cook Inlet, and species like the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale.”
The State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation maintains that it has the strongest oil and gas spill prevention and clean-up standards in the United States. However, the appeal states, the ADEC which retains oversight authority for oil spill clean-up, often fails to enforce such standards and works to weaken them.
CWA Board member, Nikos Pastos says “the Final Decision of approval guts the C-Plan regulations and Best Available Technology standards by deferring to Buccaneers discretion for on-the-ground decision-making regardless of the commitments and standards listed on paper, and hides critical decision-making from public view.”
With the recent expansion of oil and gas drilling in Cook Inlet, the risk to the unique marine habitat and natural resources of the Inlet, from oil and gas spills and blowouts, is greater than ever, the lawsuit states.
Carl Wassilie, Alaska’s Big Village Network’s subsistence rights coordinator and biologist, says, “We want to ensure the Division’s approval of C-Plans do not have loopholes.”
Public comment period
There are three opportunities to give public testimony on oil and gas issues. One is on the Tidelands Permit to moor the Endeavour rig off Anchor Point.
This permit would allow Buccaneer to tow the rig to the site to conduct modifications to the drilling rig. No type of ground disturbance, with an exception to securing the drill rig, would be authorized under this permit. The proposed location is within Cook Inlet specifically in Section 29, Township 3 South, Range 15 West of the Seward Meridian.
Comments can be made at the State of Alaska websitehere, or call 269-8913. Deadline is Nov. 28
West Eagle Unit:
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources gives notice on this permit application. The proposed West Eagle Unit is located onshore on the southern Kenai Peninsula, northeast of the City of Homer near the Caribou Hills area.
Buccaneer Alaska Operations, LLC, (Buccaneer), the proposed West Eagle Unit Operator, filed an application to form the West Eagle Unit with the Division of Oil and Gas which was deemed complete on Oct. 4.
The application is available on the State’s website here, or by calling 269-8507. Deadline is Nov. 14.
Area-wide leases in Cook Inlet
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Oil and Gas, will offer all available state acreage in the Cook Inlet Areawide and the Alaska Peninsula Areawide oil and gas lease sales areas, tentatively scheduled for Spring 2013. DO&G requests substantial new information concerning these areas that has become available over the past year.
The findings and supplements are located on the State website here, or call 269-8776. Deadline is Nov. 13.
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