Less than 10 gallons; Cook Inlet oil spill estimate released from ADEC

 photo courtesy Cook Inletkeeper
photo courtesy Cook Inletkeeper (KTUU)
Published: Apr. 2, 2017 at 4:41 PM AKDT
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UPDATE - Monday 5:30 p.m.

The on-scene coordinator for the Alaska Dept of Environmental Conservation said Monday afternoon that the estimated release from an oil pipeline leak in Cook Inlet was less than ten gallons.

Graham Wood with ADEC said state officials are confident of the estimate based on aerial observations and photos.

In a written statement Monday morning, Hilcorp, the company that operates the rig and pipeline where the spill occurred Saturday, said it estimates the spill was less than three gallons.

Lois Epstein of The Wilderness Society said Monday "that is a very suspiciously low number. There were sheens that were seen three miles away. This seems to ignore the fact that this was a high-pressure pipeline (and) that there will end up that there's some oil that you can;t see."

Epstein said the oil spill, and an earlier gas leak from a different Hilcorp pipeline, warrant a federal and state investigation.

Hilcorp declined requests Monday for an on-camera interview.

UPDATE - Sunday 8:30 p.m.:

State officials on Sunday said Hilcorp has completely halted the flow of oil through an underwater oil pipeline believed to be the source of a leak discovered Saturday morning.

"The crude oil pipeline between the Anna and Bruce platforms has been shut-in and the pressure to the line has been reduced to zero pounds per square inch," ADEC wrote in a follow-up report.

The amount of oil released into the environment remains unknown. Hilcorp personnel conducted pigging operations to remove any remaining oil from the line.

"An overflight conducted during the pigging operations did not observe sheen," ADEC wrote.

ORIGINAL STORY - Sunday 4:50 p.m.:

Most of the offshore oil platforms in Cook Inlet have been a part of the oil and gas industry since the 1960s.

A crude oil leak discovered Saturday is believed to be coming from a pipeline that was built around that time, according to Kristin Ryan, director of the state's Division of Spill Prevention & Response.

"This pipeline in particular was original, but has had some sections replaced over the years, so it's not all from 1960, but some of it is," Ryan said. "The Cook Inlet infrastructure is some of the oldest we have in the state."

Personnel working on the Anna platform belonging to Hilcorp Alaska felt an impact on Saturday and discovered an oil sheen along with bubbles close to an underwater 8 inch crude oil pipeline.

The company conducted flyovers in the area at about 12:30 p.m. that afternoon.

"There were several spots of sheening that occurred, some were quite large, but diesel oil spreads when it reaches the surface of the water so that's not much of an indicator of the size of the leak," Ryan said.

A second flyover did not spot oil sheens by 1:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon or on Sunday.

Hilcorp has since shut in the Anna and Bruce platforms, reducing pressure to the line from 70 pounds per square inch to 5 psi.

A joint statement from the Unified Command including the U.S. Coast Guard, ADEC and Hilcorp Alaska said platform crews are displacing the existing oil in the pipeline with seawater.

Ryan said shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday response crews ran a pig through the line past the flanges, where the source of the leak is believed to be located.

A pig is a spongy, squeegee-like tool used to push oil out of the line.

Ryan said the crew will continue to run the pig toward the Bruce platform, removing oil and instead filling it with seawater.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Cook Inletkeeper expressed concerns about Hilcorp's history.

Bob Shavelson, with Cook Inletkeeper said he wants to see action taken by federal and state regulators.

"I think Hilcorp immediately needs to be put on probation and there needs to be a comprehensive audit looking at all of their operations to see if they are capable of operating safely in Cook Inlet," Shavelson said. "All signs are they are not."

According to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's website, Hilcorp Alaska has faced multiple fines and enforced actions for noncompliance issues.

The website shows AOGCC has provided notices of enforcement actions against the company at least 12 times since April of 2013.

The most recent notice happened in December of 2016 for failing to provide required meter reports for August of 2014 through December of 2015.

Ryan said it's likely the company will be hit with more penalties following the oil leak.

"Penalties are based on the amount released and since we don't have an indication yet of how much was released, it's too soon for me to predict what that would be," Ryan said.

In a written statement, Governor Walker said, "It has been less than a week since Hilcorp agreed to temporarily shut down oil and gas production as part of its response to a leaking gas supply line. Now, Hilcorp has reported a separate leaking oil line --which is significantly more harmful than natural gas. I am deeply concerned about the potential impact to the environment. This oil line has been shut in. Our Spill Prevention and Response Team has immediately responded, and is keeping me apprised of developments."

Channel 2 staff requested interviews with Hilcorp Alaska, but were referred to a joint statement by the Unified Command.