Environmental group fights oil explorer’s Cook Inlet fracking plans

A prominent environmental group is asking the federal government to stop an independent oil explorer from fracking wells in Cook Inlet, saying it "poses a grave and imminent threat to critically endangered" Cook Inlet beluga whales.

The Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday spelled out its opposition to the plan by Texas-based BlueCrest Energy to conduct the first drilling that would involve large-scale, horizontal fracking in Cook Inlet.

The center is asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to stop the company's plans and to issue a draft analysis for public comment that considers the unique impacts of offshore fracking in the Southcentral Alaska oil and gas province.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has issued a proposed incidental harassment authorization for BlueCrest's plans, said Kristen Monsell, staff attorney for the environmental group, in the letter. The permit allows drilling or other activity to take place, but with mitigation measures designed to prevent marine mammals from being disturbed. But the proposal does not consider the "additional, unique impacts from offshore fracking" that include increased risk of oil spills, earthquakes and noise pollution, Monsell said.

BlueCrest has said it will drill horizontal wells more than 4 miles long, extending into the Inlet from a drilling site 6 miles north of Anchor Point, where the company has also built a processing facility.

Fracking has stirred controversy in the Lower 48, including concern over groundwater pollution. Fracking involves injecting wells with water, sand and chemicals to fracture rock to enhance oil or gas production.

Benjamin Johnson, chief executive of BlueCrest Energy and a 1975 graduate of Kenai High School, said the fracking won't pollute the Inlet. He said the rock fracturing will take place within a few hundred feet of a production zone more than a mile beneath the sea floor.

He said on Wednesday the fracking is planned to take place over a couple of weeks late this year.

Such drilling occurs from wells on the North Slope extending into offshore waters, he said. Fracking has also occurred in Cook Inlet. But the scope of the project is new to Cook Inlet because there hasn't been new drilling there in years, he said.

"This is simply state of the art technology being applied to new wells here," he said. "These are not individual large fracks. We're doing a large number of small fracks, and that's what makes this technology better."