Inlet pollution nets outcry

Fishermen cry foul over proposal to allow more oil, grease discharge

Posted: Monday, June 19, 2006

A draft permit that would allow greater oil and grease discharges into Cook Inlet is drawing concerns from fishermen and resource management agencies.

At the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association meeting Saturday, association members and guest speakers shared concerns over an Environmental Protection Agency draft permit that would allow Cook Inlet oil and gas producers to increase the oil and grease they can discharge nearly threefold.

A public comment period on the draft permit ended May 31, and the EPA is expected to issue a final permit by fall.

Steve Howell, the director of public outreach for Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, raised the issue early in the meeting. He said an increase from the 32,000 gallons oil and gas producers are currently allowed to discharge into Cook Inlet to the 100,000 gallons the draft permit would allow is based on flawed modeling and could jeopardize important resources.

“Obviously it has some serious concerns for groups like yourselves,” he said, addressing the association’s members.

The association’s meeting addressed a broad spectrum of issues, but speakers and questions from the members kept the draft permit issue simmering throughout most of the meeting.

Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, called the changes in the proposed draft permit alarming.

And Mike Wiley, the association’s former president, said the draft permit had the potential to disrupt an otherwise largely harmonious relationship between fishermen and oil and gas producers in Cook Inlet.

However, Wiley said he was surprised to hear so many people raise concerns over the issue at Saturday’s meeting.

And while the association has written letters to Juneau opposing changes to mixing zone regulations, it has not yet to addressed the draft permit issue, he said.

After Saturday’s meeting, Wiley said he suspects that will change.

Wiley said oil companies that have been making plans for zero discharge in the inlet, such as Escopeta Oil, are moving in the right direction.

Escopeta Oil, which is preparing to drill three new wells in Cook Inlet, is planning zero discharge exploration, said Steve Sutherlin, a strategic affairs analyst for Escopeta Oil and a guest speaker at Saturday’s meeting.

“If it’s economically viable, it would be our preference not to get into the discharge argument at all,” he said, explaining the company’s plans.

Sutherlin said that, although there is still room for the company to back out of a zero discharge plan, that it is unlikely.

“(Escopeta Oil) is in the midst of the permitting process and we don’t want to back up and do it again,” he said.

In addition to concerns raised about how discharges from gas and oil producers might impact fish stocks, Paul Shadura II, the association’s executive director, said the fishing industry is also concerned that increased discharges could damage the marketability of fish caught in Cook Inlet.

Other association members shared Shadura’s sentiment.

By focusing on quality, Cook Inlet fishermen have raised prices for Cook Inlet sockeye salmon from approximately 60 cents per pound four years ago to approximately 95 cents per pound last year, said Leon Marcinkowski, a member of the association and board member of Kenai Wild.

“We have brought up the standardso why would we want to go backwards again?” he said.

But not every member of the association was concerned about discharges from oil and gas producers in Cook Inlet.

Association member Gene Palm said that, although he believes his views are in the minority among the association’s members, he does not think increased discharges would harm Cook Inlet fishermen.

“I think that there’s a lot of flushing action in the inlet,” he said. “(And) I’ve never been hurt by a local oil company out there.”

The association members concluded Saturday’s meeting with elections, naming Brent Johnson as president, Julie Marcinkowski as vice president, Paul Shadura III as secretary treasurer and Paul Shadura II as executive director.

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