Hilcorp looks ahead after inlet incidents.

Author:Brehmer, Elwood

Hilcorp Alaska leaders are ready to look ahead after a rocky start to 2017.

The company has two drilling rigs working in Cook Inlet, on the Steelhead and King Salmon platforms, and just announced a $75 million plan to ultimately reduce oil tanker traffic in the Inlet.

Hilcorp found itself making unwanted headlines starting in early February when it reported a natural gas leak from one of its subsea pipelines in the central Inlet Middle Ground Shoal oil field offshore from Nikiski. The company took significant heat from environmental groups for not having a plan to immediately fix the gas leak, particularly because Cook Inlet is home to its own distinct population of endangered Beluga whales.

Hilcorp representatives said at the time the damaged gas line--in about 80 feet of water--could not be repaired because the loose sheets of ice that drift through Inlet waters each winter put dive crews in unacceptable danger. Additionally, gas flows in the formerly oil-carrying 8-inch pipeline could be reduced but not completely cut off to keep the line from depressurizing and potentially allowing residual oil to escape and compound the problems.

As a result, natural gas bubbled to the surface for more than two months until divers installed a temporary repair clamp in the pipe April 13.

Had it been an oil leak, the line could have and would have been shut in almost immediately, Hilcorp Alaska Senior Vice President Dave Wilkins emphasized in an interview. In the end, a sofa-sized rock rubbing on the pipeline was identified as the culprit of the leak; it wore a 3/16inch by 3/8-inch hole in the line, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The DEC issued its final situation report on the gas leak May 22. Divers finished permanent repairs to the pipeline May 19 and divers conducting an inspection of the repair the following day found no further bubbles or leaks, the report states. Less than two months after the gas leak was confirmed, on April 1 Hilcorp workers on the Anna oil platform sent word of what at the time was believed to be an oil spill after something struck the platform and a small slick was spotted on the water's surface below.

Originally believed to be a potential oil spill, the sheen dissipated quickly after it was first reported.

The company concluded that a large pan of river ice struck the northern Cook Inlet platform, causing about three gallons of natural gas condensates that had gathered in a gas flare fuel...

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