Alaska Gas Leak Is Endangering Beluga Whales But Won’t Be Fixed For Weeks

Credit: Inhabitat

The natural habitat of endangered beluga whales is seriously at risk following news that a leaking natural gas pipeline won’t be fixed until the ice melts. The gas pipe is situated in Inlet, Alaska, and is currently leaking gas which is flowing unchecked into the ocean. Inside Climate News reports that Hilcorp Alaska, which is the company that is responsible for the leak, says that they won’t be able to repair any of the damage until later this month at the very earliest. They claim that this is due to concerns about the safety of the company’s workers. The eight inch underwater pipeline has been leaking about 120,000 to 310,000 cubic feet of natural gas into the ocean each day since February 7, 2017.

The Hilcorp Alaska Senior Vice President, David Wilkins, wrote: “Given the typical weather patterns affecting ice formation and dissipation in Cook Inlet, we currently anticipate that the earliest that the conditions will allow diving will be in mid-to-late March.” Reports state that if the pipe was looked at before that date, it is likely to be unsafe for the divers who have to go underwater to try to fix the leak. However, this means that for the humans to be safe, potentially more damage could be done to whales, due to the oil currently leaking into a critical habitat for endangered beluga whales. Bob Shavelson, from the Alaska non-profit Cook Inletkeeper, claims that there are concerns that the methane in the leaking gas could have the impact of displacing the oxygen that is currently in the water and therefore create hypoxic zones which could be dangerous for the population of around 340 belugas that are currently in the area.

Credit: Inhabitat

Inside Climate News recently reported that Alaska’s Department of Environment Conservation says Hilcorp “didn’t respond to its request for a plan to monitor the leak and environmental impacts.” Without this data analysis, the state agency cannot assess the threat that is posed by the leak. Following this, the state has asked Hilcorp to provide a plan by March 8, which is more than a month after the leak initially began. In a letter that was addressed to Alaska’s DEC, Hilcorp stated that the amount of dissolved methane that was currently coming from the leak is very minimal, meaning that is it not toxic to aquatic organisms. They also stated that belugas tend to avoid the areas that are covered in ice, which would mean that there are likely no belugas surrounding the area of the leak.

However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has disagreed with this statement, and in a recent letter the agency noted that “Cook Inlet belugas tend to prefer ice cover, to the point that their presence has become associated with that of ice.” The NOAA explained “If a significant hypoxic zone is created by a continuing natural gas discharge. Cook Inlet belugas and multiple [physical and biological features] of their critical habitat could be adversely affected.”

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