'Low risk' gas leak from undersea pipe suspected after helicopter crew spots bubbles in Cook Inlet

Hilcorp Alaska said on Wednesday an undersea pipeline carrying natural gas to shore in Cook Inlet may be leaking.

The company suspects gas is coming from the 8-inch pipeline that runs from Platform A, said Lori Nelson, external affairs manager at Hilcorp. The possible leak was spotted Tuesday by a helicopter pilot, who saw bubbling above the pipeline route.

The size of the leak is too small to trigger deployment of U.S. Coast Guard response personnel, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Bill Colclough said Wednesday. He said he did not know the size of the leak, but said the Coast Guard will assist in any cleanup effort.

The gas production facility, installed in 1964 by Shell, is the oldest offshore platform in the Inlet. It is located about 5 miles offshore in the Middle Ground Shoal field, northwest of Kenai.

Former Democratic Alaska Sen. Hollis French, now regulating oil and gas wells as a commissioner on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, worked on the platform in 1978 after arriving in Alaska.

Colclough said a report of the leak was submitted to the Coast Guard's National Response Center Wednesday morning.

Nelson, the Hilcorp spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to questions about the estimated size of the leak. But in an emailed statement, she said Hilcorp has notified "appropriate agencies" and hired contractor Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response.

The spill-response organization has "determined the situation to be 'low risk' and will be helping establish Hilcorp's response plan," Nelson said.

"Further, no sheen has been observed in the area. Hilcorp personnel are working to identify the source of the bubbling and will take appropriate action when a safe plan forward is established," Nelson said.

Based in Houston, Texas, Hilcorp has become the dominant oil and gas producer in the Inlet since arriving in 2011, rapidly buying assets as other companies have abandoned the aging basin. It also operates oil fields on the North Slope.

The company has helped boost sagging production by updating old wells and other facilities. But the regulatory commission has also hammered the company with fines, saying it has a "history of noncompliance" in Alaska.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or