The House Fisheries Committee has long been an important place for fisher-folks in the Alaska State Capitol. Not only is it a safe and friendly room to engage in the mosh pit dancing that is fishery politics it also is a committee designed to do things that protect fish and thereby fishing. That is why it is a great and good thing that HB 82, through some deft political maneuvering, was referred to the House Fisheries Committee. HB 82 is a bill to open Kachemak Bay to subsurface gas exploration and development from onshore facilities.
Last year we at The Alaska Center argued for the creation of a Special Committee on Climate Change as a way for the legislature to examine the costs associated with specific bills that may increase the carbon emissions of the state. The House Fisheries Committee can, and should, consider the damage to fish habitat as a cost borne primarily by the state and factor this into their analysis of HB 82.
Kachemak Bay was closed to oil and gas exploration and development in 1976 with local area fishermen leading the opposition. Kachemak Bay was their horn of plenty - teeming with crab, shrimp, herring, salmon and other sea creatures, all vulnerable to irreparable harm from oil and gas development in a small bay. HB 82 is a camel’s nose under the tent of this very clear legal prohibition. It is designed to accommodate BlueCrest Energy's operations, which drills subsurface oil wells under the seafloor from an onshore site near Anchor Point and is seeking to expand natural gas operations.
Lateral drilling technology combined with fracking could open up vast portions of Kachemak Bay. Each new development would bring with it the potential for harm and toxics, both unintended and as a part of normal petroleum industry operations. Note- the industry considers the millions of gallons of toxic wastewater dumped into Cook Inlet under a loophole in the Clean Water Act as a part of normal operations.
In Federal waters just outside Kachemak Bay, the Biden Administration recently paused a proposed million-acre lease sale in lower Cook Inlet, which the Trump administration offered up on a platter. The Lower Cook Inlet Defence Project, facilitated by our friends at Cook InletKeeper, is circulating a petition to tell the Biden Administration to make the pause permanent and cancel the lease sale. For those of you who enjoy fishing or a view from the Homer Spit that does not include oil platforms, please consider signing this petition.
As for HB 82, it should remain in the House Fisheries Committee. It is an end-run around the protections afforded to the Kachemak Bay region since 1976.
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