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U.S. wants input on Alaskan oil production proposal

A subsidiary of BP in 2012 said there were safer options than what's under consideration now in the Beaufort Sea.

By Daniel J. Graeber
U.S. wants input on Alaskan oil production proposal
U.S. government extends comment period for a plan to build artificial islands to drill for oil and gas in Alaskan waters. File photo by Kyle Waters/Shutterstock

Nov. 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. government said it was seeking additional public input on plans by an oil company to build artificial islands to drill in the Beaufort Sea.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it was asking for comments about a draft environmental impact statement on Hilcorp Alaska's plans in shallow waters about 20 miles east of Prudhoe Bay.

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In June, Hilcorp was the lone high-bidder for a lease sale in the federal waters of the Cook Inlet off the state's southern coast. The lease, the first in nearly a decade, brought in $3 million in high bids from the company.

A two-volume report running more than 1,000 pages, an impact statement from the BOEM in August described HIlcorp's other plans to build artificial islands as part of a plan to deliver oil to the shore. A British subsidiary of BP first proposed a similar project in the late 1990s, determined there were "safer and more technically sound" alternatives and cancelled the project in 2012. In April 2014, BP sold its operating position at the so-called Liberty field to HIlcorp.

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BOEM estimated that Hilcorp could recover at most 48 percent of the 180 million barrels of oil in place. Federal studies indicate peak production at about 58,000 barrels of oil per day. Early this year, BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruikshank said the region has "great oil and gas potential," but is also home to "sensitive marine and coastal resources."

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Offering comments to the BOEM in October, Lois Epstein, the Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society, said there were "several significant concerns" with Liberty oil field developments. According to her, Hilcorp had a record of pipeline releases in the state, the last of which required intervention from Alaska Gov. Bill Walker.

Under the worst case scenario, she said, more than 4.6 million barrels of oil could be released, making Liberty a serious concern given its unique maritime environment.

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Alaska has notched a series of wins under U.S. President Donald Trump. This week, Alaska's Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced a budget provision that would open up a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge up to oil and gas drillers.

The Trump administration has signaled it would include parts of Alaska above the Arctic Circle in its broader lease plan.

If approved, Hilcorp would start production at Liberty by 2021. The initial public comment period was set to end Saturday, but now extends to Dec. 8. BOEM offered no explanation for the extension.

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