Kachemak Bay in Lower Cook Inlet lies 125 miles south of Anchorage. It’s been statistically documented as one of the world’s richest and most biologically diverse marine ecosystems, and has been properly called the “Jewel in Alaska’s Coastal Crown” because of its remarkably rich terrestrial and marine resources.
Yet since the expansion of commercial oil and gas development in Cook Inlet in the 1960s, Kachemak Bay has been threatened by heavy industrial development. Today that threat looms larger than ever.
In the 1970s local people fought the State of Alaska’s shortsighted $25 million oil and gas lease sale in Kachemak Bay. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed the sale was illegal, and ordered the State to buy back the leases.
Encouraged by an oil-free bay, Homer then became the headquarters of the National Maritime Wildlife Refuge, a State Critical Habitat Area, and the home of America’s largest National Estuarine Research Reserve. Kachemak Bay watershed also includes the first State Park created by the Alaska legislature, and the only state-designated wilderness area in Alaska. It is a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site. The World Bank’s environmental program listed it among the planet’s most significant marine ecosystems, and there’s a proposal to designate the area as a United Nations World Heritage Site.
A 440-foot-tall exploratory “jack-up” drilling rig darkens the landscape in Kachemak Bay. State resource managers have ignored a well-established rule prohibiting storage of such rigs in the state Critical Habitat Area, and allowed a foreign company to store its massive rig in the Bay.
Buccaneer Energy – the Australian company responsible for the drill rig – has encountered problems since the rig arrived. They said the rig would be in Kachemak Bay for eightdays; that was three months ago. They said they had permits to drill, when they didn’t. They didn’t pay some local workers who put them on a “cash only” basis. They promised local elected officials they would provide them with their plan in the event of a drilling blow-out, but no such report has been filed. They held public meetings then could not answer direct questions.
Over 90% of Alaska’s general fund revenues derive from oil and gas production. With no statewide sales or income tax, Alaska is wholly dependent on large multinational oil companies to pay for basic services. As a result, the State of Alaska has fully embraced the rhetoric of “drill, baby, drill,” with few efforts to mitigate the climate change, oil spill, and other disruptions that come from oil production and use.
In its efforts to incentivize more drilling, Alaska provides huge tax credits and other subsidies. For example, oil and gas companies can get $0.65 back on every dollar they spend for exploration activities, and in Cook Inlet, the first three companies to drill new deep wells can get tax credits up to $25 million.
Despite the fact the U.S. is now exporting its oil excess, the federal and state governments continue to encourage oil drilling adjacent to Kachemak Bay, where tides rise and fall as much as 30 vertical feet in six hours, offering little chance of oil spill containment in an area beset with heavy wind, ice and wave conditions.
Alaska stands on the front lines of rapid climate change. From melting glaciers and disappearing sea ice to warming salmon streams and thawing permafrost, no place in the U.S. is experiencing the effects of rapid global warming like Alaska.
Kachemak Bay is under siege from oil and gas companies looking to profit from huge state subsidies and regulatory agencies willing to look the other way when violations occur. Groups like Cook Inlet Keeper are working hard to level the playing field, and local citizens are mobilizing to assert their rights to clean water and healthy fisheries. Until we come to grips with our nation’s fossil fuel addiction, more areas like Kachemak Bay will fall into the cross hairs of oil and gas development. Support the work of the Cook Inletkeeper here: www.inletkeeper.org
Alaskans and people everywhere demand leaders who listen to the scientific intelligence and act sustainably based on it. As responsible citizens we have the opportunity to work together to build secure, resilient communities.
We are right to demand clear-eyed leadership of our public officials, expecting that they first protect the natural environment that sustains us while wisely making our resources available only to those who play by our rules.