Buccaneer Alaska's plans to drill for oil and gas on a gravel pit in the grazing lands out East End Road hit families in the area hard at the end of August. Reading of it in the newspaper was the first time many of them came to hear of it. We know this isn't good public policy, to surprise or leave misinformed the stakeholders who have the most to win or lose from new development prospects. Isn't it also bad corporate policy to leave them in the dark?
For this, the Kenai Peninsula Borough should be brought to task – but there is no public testimony trigger in the current step of the process that would have required them to alert the public. We could call Buccaneer to the mat for keeping the information proprietary. But isn't that what companies like to do? Keep their plans to themselves until they are ready to spring into action?
No drills are going to bite into the substrata any time this year, but it will happen later next year, Buccaneer's officials tell us. We live in sorry times if these developments can land on our doorsteps before we knew they were even coming.
It is safe to say that even the name of the proposed area, called West Eagle Unit, was an unknown vocabulary for 99.7 percent of the people in Homer. This unit includes nine state leases on the "eastern limb of the Cook Inlet Basin." The first well is designed to test potential oil and gas accumulations on "a large structural high up-dip from wells which the log shows were drilled in the 1960s," according to Buccaneer's press release.
The phones at the Homer Tribune office rang with several frustrated individuals recently as people turned to us to try to understand what is this planned development? How far will it go? Is Homer, all the way out to the betreasured Fox River flats area, in for a future of oil and gas development in the coming decades? Why weren't the property owners and nearby Russian Old Believer villages told?
"Some of these leases were sold for as little as $20-$30 an acre," one of the heartbroken landowners in the area said. "It doesn't matter how well we took care of our property, or the taxes we paid to the borough or the many years we lived here and worked on agricultural projects or high tunnels or grazing lands, the oil and gas companies can move in on us and take over and they don't have to tell us a thing."
That's because Alaskans don't own the subsurface rights to their lands. The state does. And the state encourages resource exploration – that means probing, seismic testing and boring for potential minerals, oil and gas. The state has known the test sites, such as the Eagle Unit, which has changed hands many times since 1960s. Buccaneer is only the latest company with plans to drill, in a long line of concerns who couldn't do it or didn't have the incentives in place or the proper market climate.
Well, now they do. Today's "proper market" climate discusses Cook Inlet Basin with a great deal of enthusiasm. Little did most Homer residents comprehend, however, that this area is a "limb" in the Cook Inlet basin.
It is understandable that the race for natural gas and oil in an energy insecure time would mean boisterous analysis of resources. But does it have to be careless as well? Incautious enthusiasm when it comes to fragile cold, difficult to clean, already troubled environments makes us nervous. Do we live in the ignorant world of Jed Clampetts who are happy when oil gets struck on their lands and they are richly rewarded in a Beverly Hills lifestyle?
Not hardly. Modern ignorance was yanked away by incidences of industrial wastes leached into underground waters, by oil spills and diminished species.
If Buccaneer wants to do work in this "limb" of Cook Inlet, the company has a lot of explaining to do. Starting with a long talk with the community. If they want to get to know Homer, they'll have to understand that even personal watercraft are looked at twice when it comes to entering Kachemak Bay.
The previous commentary was first published in The Homer Tribune and is republished here with permission.
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