Group files to revoke Unocal permit

Posted: Thursday, April 08, 2004

Four Cook Inlet villages, along with a Homer-based environmental group, have petitioned the federal government to revoke Unocal's Clean Water Act general permit for oil and gas operations in Cook Inlet.

In a press release issued Wednesday, the villages of Port Graham, Chickaloon, Eklutna and Nanwalek, along with Cook Inlet Keeper, announced they've filed a petition to revoke Unocal's permit with the Environmental Protection Agency. The press release alleges that Unocal has a long history of environmental abuses that include "hundreds of recent Clean Water Act violations."

In a response to the petition issued Wednesday, Unocal said it has been working with the EPA.

"EPA has been meeting with the tribes to discuss renewal of the general permit. Appli-cations are now pending before the EPA for renewal of the permit, and this petition is simply a collateral attack on the permitting process," the statement read.

The statement went on to say the permit process allows for a public review of Unocal's operations in the inlet.

"The permitting process allows for a public review of compliance, operations and appropriate standards," it said. "Unocal has been working and will continue to work with EPA to renew the permit."

The groups filing the petition say they want to see Unocal, which produces approximately 10,000 barrels of oil per day from its 10 offshore oil platforms in Cook Inlet, held to higher dumping standards than currently is required under the general EPA permit the company holds.

The petition calls for individual permits to be issued for each Unocal facility in the inlet, rather than a general permit.

Bob Shavelson, executive director of Cook Inlet Keeper, said Wednesday that the petition was filed after years of frustration with Unocal's business practices in Cook Inlet, which he referred to as "pay to pollute."

"It's grown over a number of years," Shavelson said.

He said, among other things, the oil company has failed to live up to its obligations set out by the EPA by continually discharging oil and other toxins into the inlet.

"Unocal doesn't take its obligation under the Clean Water Act seriously," he said.

Shavelson said Unocal repeatedly has been guilty of discharging toxic substances into Cook Inlet, including more than 750 violations between 1998 and 2003. He said these violations range from minor dumping such as dirty mop water to major instances of oil, grease and toxic substances.

Shavelson countered Uno-cal's claims that any violations are minor, saying the company has a history of abusing the environment in the inlet that it consistently tries to gloss over.

"Unocal's public relations people will always come out and say these are minor violations," he said.

Shavelson criticized the company for failing to work with Native tribes in the area, saying the company has ignored the tribes' desire to have the company pay fines directly to local groups as opposed to the federal government.

"Unocal had that option, but they totally ignored the tribes," he said.

Port Graham Native Village Chief Pat Norman echoed Shavelson's statements in the press release, saying Unocal has failed to work with the tribes to reduce the amount of waste the company discharges into the inlet.

"Our concerns for the traditional resources we use from Cook Inlet continue to go unaddressed," Norman said. "Uno-cal's violations harm the traditional resources the Tribes of Cook Inlet depend on and which are critical to our traditional way of life."

Shavelson said the next step in the process will be for the EPA to respond to the petition and decide if it will go forward with the process of revoking Unocal's discharge permit.

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