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Final assessment of Beaufort Sea oil project completed

The U.S. offshore regulator announced the completion of an impact study on the Liberty oil development plan for offshore Alaska.

By
Daniel J. Graeber
The U.S. government said it's completed its assessment of an oil development plan for offshore Alaska. File Photo by Kyle Waters/Shutterstock
The U.S. government said it's completed its assessment of an oil development plan for offshore Alaska. File Photo by Kyle Waters/Shutterstock

Aug. 24 (UPI) -- A U.S. offshore regulator published its final environmental impact statement on a planned oil development in the Beaufort Sea offshore Alaska.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management published its assessment of a development and production plan submitted by Hilcorp Alaska to develop its Liberty prospect in the shallow waters of the Beaufort Sea.

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The Liberty prospect is located 5.5 miles offshore and 8 miles away from the Endicott oil field, operated by British supermajor BP. Hilcorp estimates the prospect holds about 150 million barrels of recoverable, high-quality crude oil.

The company wants to build a nine-acre artificial island similar to what's already in place for regional oil and gas production. The EIS states that a self-contained production facility on a gravel island in the Beaufort Sea with a pipeline to shore is the preferred option that would balance economic, environmental and technical issues.

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"This final EIS incorporates input from those communities and the comments we received from other stakeholders, partner agencies and the general public," BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank said in a statement. "With that input, our scientists have produced a robust analysis that thoroughly analyzes the potential impacts of Hilcorp's proposal."

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At an October meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Hilcorp's proposal, supporters said the project was designed with the best environmental safeguards in mind. 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, the Wilderness Society estimated that more than 4.6 million barrels of oil could be released. The federal EIS estimated a worst-case scenario would be a release of 5,000 barrels of oil.

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BOEM discounted BP's release in the Gulf of Mexico in some of its assessments because the severity of the incident skewed the data.

Hilcorp aims to initiate commercial production at Liberty as early as 2021. The EIS is not a decision-making document.

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