Letter to Editor

Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2002

Good reasons to oppose expansion of gas drilling in Kenai refuge

The front-page photo accompanying the Clarion's Feb. 27 story on oil and gas drilling in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge says it all --the photo clearly shows an extensive industrial site, not the public and wildlife preserve that the refuge was intended to be. Drilling that pre-dated creation of the refuge may be unavoidable, but the natural gas drilling expansion within the refuge proposed by Unocal, as well as drilling in the pristine Arctic refuge which was discussed in the story, are different matters entirely.

Alaska environmental organizations oppose new drilling in the Kenai refuge because it will fragment wildlife habitat, create unnecessary fire hazards and add to existing refuge pollution and industrial noise. Additionally, because rural natural gas production field (i.e., gathering) pipelines and their contaminated-water discharge lines are not regulated or inspected by the federal or state governments, worker and refuge visitor safety hazards are real. All these problems were readily apparent during a tour of the refuge organized by Cook Inlet Keeper last summer, in which Alaska environmental activists and local media participated.

The lack of governmental mandates for much of the Kenai refuge's existing pipeline operations means, unfortunately, that the public must rely on the voluntary actions of pipeline operators to protect our public lands. Unocal's record of upgrading its pipelines with well-known corrosion prevention and leak detection measures is very problematic due to the slowness of upgrades, the possibility that corporate commitment to pipeline improvement could change at any time, and a corporate culture that avoids disclosure of its actions to the interested public.

The poster-child spill in the Kenai refuge occurred as recently as January 1999 when over 225,000 gallons of crude and contaminated water spilled from a pipeline with a 3/8-inch hole -- this ongoing release was not discovered by a pipeline operator but instead by a passing snowmachiner. With 27 pipeline spills in the five-year period from 1997-2001 and an additional major pipeline spill on Jan. 29, 2002, it's clear that Unocal's drilling and pipeline operations in the refuge are nowhere near what they should be.

Lois Epstein, senior engineer

Cook Inlet Keeper

It's still unclear how new first-run king policy is best for conservation

I read the column that Brett Huber wrote in Tuesday's paper with great interest and had a couple of comments.

I wanted to comment on the use of "Web wizard" in Mr. Huber's column. This sort of name calling really has no place in public discourse outside of a freshman-level rhetoric class. Referring to the author of the alaskaoutdoorjournal.com as a "wizard" is a fairly cheap "poisoning the well" technique, given that the Web site in question raises some fairly straightforward questions. If Mr. Huber believes the "Web wizard's" concerns are unfounded, and that he is out of his depth, he should be able, through a command of the facts, show him to be in error, and to what extent.

My other comment is that Mr. Huber's column was poorly crafted; it had more generalities and anecdotal asides than were really relevant. I'm not certain why a significant portion of the column was devoted to the mechanics of how the Board of Fisheries came to its decision, but these accounts and asides commit the sins of being truisms; they don't materially add or subtract from the discussion. In some ways, Mr. Huber might have been asking us to believe that conservation is the prime incentive behind the public policy that the Kenai River Sportfishing Association seeks.

I think it is certainly possible that this is the case, but we are all well aware of how involved KRSA was in the fisheries board process and what the economic incentives for guide-friendly policy are as well. This new policy was a surprise to many because it suddenly appeared without time for public comment and that it can arguably eradicate large kings in the Kenai -- all to the (at least immediate) benefit of the guides. This chain of events has raised suspicions and these suspicions have to be answered directly.

How Mr. Huber will explain how this new policy is best for conservation is really what the critics are asking for, and a better-crafted column needs to be written to answer those critics.

Thanks for the chance to comment.

Wilbur Nelson


Big fish need to get to spawning grounds to produce more big fish

Brett Huber claims that if we "...want more big fish, the first thing (we) need is more fish." Well, not quite. The first thing we need is more big fish on the spawning beds, and this is exactly why Huber's, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association's and the guides' advocacy of killing 55-inch and larger first run kings is so hypocritical and mistaken.

Huber, the guides and KRSA should be aware that Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Tim McKinley's report to the advisory committee plainly states, "...old, large parents tend to beget progeny that return to spawn when old and large." In other words, big fish make big fish. You think?

As I see it, KRSA's and the guide's efforts at rewriting the first-run regs was a marketing maneuver. Had they gotten it wholly their way, they'd have walked away with a stable and predictable, totally catch-and-release/trophy retention fishery -- a defined and much more marketable product than the on-again, off-again first-run fishery they've tried to sell previously. But that's just how I see it.

The "Web wizard" is known as Klondike Kid, and anyone interested in his excellent online magazine can go to: www.alaskaoutdoorjournal.com and read his comments firsthand. As Mr. Huber says, the more the merrier. Seriously, let's try to work together. The biggest of the big kings need a little consideration right now.

John Nelson


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