The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has prepared a draft Environmental Impact Statement (Volume 1; Volume 2) in response to a proposal by Hilcorp, Alaska LLC to recover and process oil from the Liberty oil field off the coast of Alaska. The Environmental Impact Statement will help the BOEM decide whether to approve or reject the proposal, determine environmental mitigation strategies companies must implement, and inform other federal agencies that are involved in regulating oil field development like the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The BOEM is calling for comments from 'federal, state, tribal, and local governments and/or agencies and the public' through Regulations.gov and at public meetings across Alaska (held in October).
Development & Production Plan
Hilcorp has proposed constructing a small (9.3 acres) gravel island to support drilling and production facilities, similar to other artificial islands used by other companies in the region. In addition, they would build both buried subsea and above-ground pipelines (total 7 miles) to connect to existing pipelines farther inland. To support the operation they would also construct ice roads, boat docks and a gravel mine site on the coast. They estimate that Liberty contains 120 million barrels of recoverable crude oil and their project would extract 65,000 barrels per day in a 25 year lifespan.
'BOEM’s independent reservoir model and reservoir simulation studies using Hilcorp’s development plan indicate that the Liberty Field reservoir would recover from 41% to 48% of the 180 million barrels of oil originally in place. These studies indicate a peak production rate of approximately 58,000 barrels of oil per day within the first two years of production with an estimated life of 22 years.'
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) examines impacts on sixteen environmental and social-cultural systems from the proposed development project, as well as several alternatives for the drilling site. The scenarios assessed include the original Liberty Development and Production Plan, no development, 3 alternative locations for the production island, 2 alternative locations for the oil and gas processing facility, and 3 alternative sources of gravel for the production island.
The 'physical and biological environment, socioeconomic and sociocultural systems, and oil and gas and related intrastructure' that may be affected by the proposed development are categorized as follows:
Bathymetry and Physiography • Oceanography • Oil and Gas Geology • Water quality • Air quality • Climate Change • Lower trophic level organisms • Fish and shellfish • Marine and coastal birds • Marine mammals • Terrestrial mammals • Vegetation, Wetlands, and Substrate • Sociocultural systems • Economy • Subsistence Activites and Harvest Patterns • Public and community health • Environmental justice • Archaeological and historic resources
A summary of predicted impacts from the Liberty Development and Production Plan can be found in the chart below.
The draft Environmental Impact Statement also noted that GHG emissions from the Plan would contribute to climate change, and that any major impacts of the Plan would be disproportionately felt by the Nuisqut community. The report concluded that a very large oil spill from the Liberty facility is highly unlikely, but would have significant ecological and public health consequences for the region.
The Liberty oil reservoir was discovered in the 1980’s by Shell Oil beneath the Beaufort Sea. The water in this region is 19 feet deep and the proposed site sits about five miles from the closest Alaskan coast. Hilcorp Alaska LLC became the 50% owner (shared with British Petroleum) and primary developer for Liberty in 2014.
In December 2014, the BOEM received a Development and Production Plan from Hilcorp for the Liberty oil reservoir. Upon review of the plan, the BOEM determined that it "did not contain sufficient information to fully address one or more" data requirements. Once Hilcorp provided this information, the BOEM initiated an Environmental Impact Statement in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
The scope of the Environmental Impact Statement was established using prior development plans, input from cooperating state, federal, and tribal agencies, and 46,678 public comments collected online and in public meetings held throughout Alaska in 2015.
According to their mission statement, the BOEM is responsible for making coastal areas available for development under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Part of this responsibility includes evaluating the potential environmental impacts of such development, to promote responsible stewardship of energy and mineral resources.
Contributor: PhD Student, Atmospheric Sciences