Home / Environmental News / Pipeline Spewing 310K Cubic Feet of Gas a Day into Ocean & Govt’s Been Allowing it for Months

Pipeline Spewing 310K Cubic Feet of Gas a Day into Ocean & Govt’s Been Allowing it for Months

Alaska — An eight-inch pipeline in Alaska’s Cook Inlet has been belching up to 310,000 cubic feet of methane into the ocean each day, for more than three months — but it could be May before anyone can shut it down.

In December, Hilcorp Alaska’s pipeline ruptured and began spewing an enormous quantity of methane into the ocean — but the leak went unreported to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration until a helicopter pilot spotted frothing and bubbling at the surface on February 7.

“PHMSA said that the natural gas discharge could pose a risk to public safety, the environment and marine mammals and has given Hilcorp until May 1 to permanently repair the line or shut it down,” EcoWatch reports.

By May, another 16 million gallons of the environmentally-deleterious gas could empty into the sea, conservation groups admonished — several of which submitted a letter exhorting the Trump administration for an immediate shutdown.

“This dangerous leak could stop immediately if regulators did their job and shut down this rickety old pipeline,” asserted Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, on the crippled 52-year-old structure. “We’re disgusted with the Trump administration’s lack of concern about this ongoing disaster. Every day the leak continues, this pipeline spews more pollution into Cook Inlet and threatens endangered belugas and other wildlife.”

CBD and the other groups warned a leak of methane this voluminous could create a hypoxic, or low-oxygen, zone, among other dangers — likely posing an “imminent threat” to endangered beluga whales, wildlife, and the delicate ecosystem.

As methane shoots upward from 80 feet below the surface, the primary plume remains potent while some gas diffuses into the water. Bacteria metabolize this diffuse methane using oxygen — resulting in a low oxygen content area — and produce carbon dioxide, which then also raises the acidity level of the sea.

“Those high concentrations of methane can have direct impacts on any organisms that might come in contact with water that’s supersaturated with methane,” explained Chris Sabine, a chemical oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, cited by InsideClimate News.

A Russian toxicologist wrote in a 1999 book on the environmental impact of the offshore oil and gas industry that methane quickly penetrates ocean organisms and can “disturb” critical life functions — meaning the inlet’s creatures could be in serious trouble.

But no one knows for sure.

“It’s a question of how quickly the concentrations are being diluted, and at what levels will they still impact the marine ecosystems,” Sabine said. “That’s where we don’t know enough yet.”

Indeed, a dearth of critical information — from where, precisely, the leak is emanating and its impact on the ecosystem — remains obscured due to the heavy ice cover and rough seas also preventing crews from remedying the issue. Scientists worry this could be the making of yet another oil and gas industry catastrophe.

“It’s like a perfect storm of conditions that would encourage or enhance the diffusion of the methane into the waters,” Sabine noted. “And that’s a bad thing for the water and for the organisms that live in it.”

InsideClimate News reports Hilcorp Alaska maintains the pipeline cannot be shut off “without risking further environmental damage, and it won’t be able to begin to fix it until the ice melts in late March or April. Ice in the inlet isn’t a solid sheet, but is in large, floating chunks that are constantly moving and changing, in part due to the tides in Cook Inlet, which are among the highest in the world. The tides can be as high as 35 feet, making it too risky to send divers into the water. The delay raises concerns about long-term repercussions.”

Sea ice might also be trapping the methane below the surface, concentrating the gas with untold ramifications for the ocean and wildlife.

Notably, this pipeline — which transports gas from land to power four platforms situated in Cook Inlet — has been a thorn in Hilcorp Alaska’s side before.

“This is the third time this pipeline has sprung a leak in recent years,” the Center for Biological Diversity penned, “and the two other leaks were reported in 2014. The pipeline was built in 1965, and there are serious questions about the pipeline’s integrity given its age and Cook Inlet’s strong tides and cold waters.”

Both CBD and Cook Inletkeeper, frustrated and fearful of the ice delay, have sent Hilcorp Alaska notices of intent to sue over the presently-unstoppable leak.

“If Hilcorp cannot or will not stop polluting our public resources, then it should have no right to operate in our waters in the first place,” Cook Inletkeeper executive director Bob Shavelson stressed earlier this month. “Hilcorp has put forth various excuses why it cannot shut down the leaking pipeline in Cook Inlet’s icy conditions — including that water would infiltrate the gas line and other reasons — but the fact remains Hilcorp simply wants to maintain production and profits without interruption.”

Until Hilcorp Alaska moves to shut down the pipeline or fix the raging leak, methane will continue erupting from beneath the sea unhindered — marking another reckless disaster courtesy of Big Oil’s shameless profiteering and toothless government regulatory agencies siding most often with corporations guilty of grievous errors.

  • Mark Skinner

    Say WHAT !

  • David Daisy May Boldock

    Send the bankers down to repair it.

  • Aaron Ingebrigtsen

    Please correct this article. You can not raise the acidity level of the ocean because the ocean is not acid. It is PH balance you are talking about. The ocean is alkaline. You can therefore make it less alkaline. Please stop doing this kind of thing.

  • Aaron Ingebrigtsen

    It is shameful that no one is doing a damn thing about this leak.

    • IceTrey

      It’s under the pack ice and it can’t be shut down because it powers offshore platforms.

    • Terry Licia

      It’s under ICE. The plans have been, from day one, to let it warm up a bit, then divers will go down and weld it. Or, would you prefer to let human beings risk their lives over the equivalent of gas for about 300 homes? It IS dissipating, it is not at levels that re toxic to anything either. Do you believe everything these socalled advocacy groups tell you? Wonder why they are not off trying to make the lives of pigs, chickens, cows. and lab animals better? I mean, obviously they don’t care if humans die over a nonissue.

  • Bruce_Mitchell

    All these pipelines should have a series of shut-off valves installed so that when leaks like this occur, they can be stopped immediately upon discovery. The pipelines should also have sensors to detect when leaks occur. Most of our big local gas and electric utilities can do this… there is no reason why the big oil and gas supply companies shouldn’t be required to do the same.

    • Joseph Slabaugh

      The line was build in the 50s, so that may be why it does not, but you are right that they should install it this summer.

      • Sam Taylor, Jr.

        They have shut-off valves. If they shut off the gas, the pipes will empty and then sea water will fill them, making the repair job considerably more expensive. That’s why they don’t want to do it.

        • Joseph Slabaugh

          Good, but for a small well, this is probably not that high a priority, to get a diver killed, Etc. But maybe it would be better to not have the pipes it water itself, but rather below the sea bed.

          • Wright Thinker

            Just how do you propose to do that?

        • Terry Licia

          That is exactly WHY they are NOT shutting them off. Where the leaks are … will fill with ice/water .. then we got a BIG problem.

    • IceTrey

      It’s powering four platforms.

    • Anonymous

      They need to replace the pipes. They don’t last forever, they WILL wear out eventually.

    • Wright Thinker

      Of course they do have the valves but as the article says it is also powering 4 platforms and the amount of gas is not huge. Basic scare tactics written by people unfamiliar with the natural gas pipeline business. The blow down of a gas compressor station on a major pipeline puts more into the atmosphere than this.

  • jackbenimble333

    This article is greatly sensationalized by using the inappropriate unit of measure. Natural Gas (methane) is usually talked about in either MCF (thousand cubic feet) or MMBTU (million Brittish Thermal Units). The energy content of natural gas varies but generally one MCF is roughly equivalent to one MMBTU and the terms often get used interchangeably. The price of 1 MMBTU is about $3.04. So while this article makes frightening headlines with 310,000 cubic feet it would be much more appropriate to talk about 310 MCFs which is worth about $1200 per day worth of gas at wholesale. It should definitely be fixed but it is hardly an environmental calamity. It is the output of a very marginally small gas well. In a cold climate is not unusual for a residential home to use 10 therms (1 MMBTU) per day for heating. So this is about enough gas to heat 30 homes being leaked daily. Not good but not a catastrophy. And there is plenty of methane being produced naturally in nature. Methane is the major component of swamp gas. This is about the equivalent of the daily methane output of a large (2500 cows) dairy farm or the farts from a small city (250,000) human beings.

    • Mace


    • FiuToYou

      Thanks for that!

    • Joseph Slabaugh

      Loved the part about the farts. Now if I could find a way to have a team of people produce farts to power my energy needs. Only need about 8-9000 volunteers.

      • jackbenimble333

        You could cut your costs and increase efficiency by offering a well designed diet of beans, cabbage, chilis an milk (if you could find some that were lactose intolerant).

        • Joseph Slabaugh

          You know, we could create a network of collection systems that people could fart into in their bathrooms, and then have it converted into use for energy. Just fart into a hole in the wall, similar to a toilet.

    • Kevin Ahern

      This f&ckin’ guy right here…I like this guy.I feel better already.

      • casey.cohen

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      • I was paid 104000 bucks past year by doing an online task moreover I was able to do it by w­orking in my own time f­o­r quite a few hours everyday. I utilized work opportunity I found out over the internet and I am thrilled that I was succeed to make such decent money. It’s seriously newbie-friendly and I’m so pleased that I discovered out regarding it. Check out what I do… http://nubr.co/gRmLjI

    • jackbenimble333

      I made an arithmatic error above. It would be 310 homes.

      • Joseph Slabaugh

        So about 807 people could make enough farts to heat a home. Interesting.

  • Larry Dawson

    Anybody got a match?

  • Heretic Jones

    I love Free Thought Project, but I’m not sure what FTP is hoping to accomplish here. Even with a rudimentary understanding of ecology one can understand that this leak, while it should be fixed, isn’t the big deal that this sensational piece would have one think. And there seems to be a sentiment that markets and profits are ugly, and that government should “do something”. Yes, regulatory agencies are toothless given they’re the cartel’s biostitutes. But goodness gracious, it’s sometimes hard to figure out just where the libertarian FTP stands.

    • Gene Bodio

      Maybe, they hope their readers will extrapolate out to a similar small leak (enough to heat 300+ homes/day) of, lets say crude, spewing from a pipe that some ahole decided to run under a fresh water drinking source, like Lake Oahe in N.Dakota.

    • Terry Licia

      This is the sixth time this group has outright lies, skewed statistics, and totally sensationalized normla activities. Stuff breaks. We fix it. Life goes on. I sure don’t see any of the protestors giving up their heated homes, or stop driving their cars to the protests, eh? LOL

  • Terry Licia

    Sensational BS! These “advocacy groups” are just talking to hear their brains rattle. I don’t know why they don’t go address REAL issues that something could be done about IMMEDIATELY … or, better yet … done YESTERDAY, like they want everything done! Fools! It’s a TINY leak, and it’s dissipating in the water rapidly BECAUSE it IS a tiny leak. Good grief. This line has served us well for a long long time, and yes, it’s had two other SMALL leaks. People don’t want to give up anything they have, and yet expect perfection from those who deliver everything they need! They WANT a perfect world, yet I don’t see them turning off their own gas in their own homes and businesses. Grow up! The REAL risk here are the lives of the human beings who will go down in those dark, icy waters to weld the leak. So, let it warm up and then, go in. It’ll likely be done by mid to late April, that was the estimate a few weeks ago, LONG before anyone in govt threatened anything (if they even truly have!).