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Hilcorp’s proposed Arctic Ocean oil development gets public review Tuesday

Conservation groups and industry supporters will face off in Anchorage Tuesday night as federal regulators wrap up hearings on a proposal to build the first offshore oil production facility in the Arctic Ocean's federal waters.

Hilcorp Alaska's Liberty Prospect could produce up to 65,000 barrels of oil daily, boosting the Alaska economy with increased oil production and more jobs, supporters say.

Environmental forces fear development will threaten critical subsistence resources, such as bowhead whales hunted by Alaska Native communities.

Hilcorp Alaska's safety record will be a target for opponents of the proposed 9.3-acre gravel island. The company seeks to build the drilling island about 5 miles off the Alaska coast, east of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.

The Houston, Texas-based company over the winter suffered a subsea natural gas leak in Cook Inlet that took more than three months to repair. The state's oil-well regulators, the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, have blasted Hilcorp for a long list of safety violations, though Commissioner Cathy Foerster has said the company is taking steps to improve.

"That's not the type of performance we'd like to see from industry, so that needs to be part of discussion," said Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society, on Monday.

Carl Portman, deputy director of the Resource Development Council, said the group will speak Tuesday about the need for safe oil development that helps Alaska grow out of its current recession.

Hilcorp's plans for constructing the gravel production island are similar to other production islands that have operated for years in the state's near-shore Arctic Ocean waters, within three miles of the coast.

Those islands include Oooguruk, operated by Caelus Energy, and Endicott, operated by BP.

"This is not an offshore development that's 100 to 150 miles off the coast," Portman said. "It would be well-protected from the polar ice cap because it's sheltered by a belt of offshore barrier islands."

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is taking public comment on the draft Environmental Impact Statement it issued on Aug. 17, a more than 1,000-page document analyzing the project's potential environmental impacts. Hilcorp submitted the production plan with the agency in 2015.

The hearing Tuesday night will wrap up a series of public meetings that included Fairbanks and three North Slope communities. The hearing is planned for the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The agency will also take public comments through Nov. 18, at www.regulations.gov.

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