Villages, Fishermen and Cook Inletkeeper Challenge EPA
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Villages, Fishermen and Cook Inletkeeper Challenge EPA for Allowing Oil Companies’ Toxic Discharges

Trustees for Alaska Asks Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to Overturn Permit

Trustees for Alaska, representing coastal Native villages, commercial fishermen, and Cook Inletkeeper, charged in court today that the Environmental Protection Agency repeatedly manipulated and sometimes falsified pollution data to support its decision to allow the operators of 19 aging oil and gas facilities to dump increasing amounts of polluted wastewater into Cook Inlet.

In a brief filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Trustees for Alaska argued that EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson violated the Clean Water Act in June of 2007 when he reissued a permit allowing Union Oil Company of California (Unocal) and other operators to dump, among other toxic pollutants, 279 tons of oil and grease into Cook Inlet every year. Unocal’s Trading Bay Production Facility discharges about 95% of the pollution coming from the Cook Inlet facilities.

“EPA is bending the rules to let the oil companies extract the last penny of profit from these aging facilities,” said Trustees for Alaska attorney Justin Massey. “And Cook Inlet is paying the price.”

“Chevron raked in record profits in 2008 and they shouldn’t treat Cook Inlet fisheries as their private dumping grounds,” said Bob Shavelson, Executive Director of Cook Inletkeeper.

The facilities began pumping oil – and discharging pollution – in the 1960s. Most of the pollution comes from millions of gallons of seawater that is injected into the subterranean oil reservoir to maintain pressure but becomes contaminated in the process.

As oil and gas are pumped to the surface, they are separated from the seawater, which is left with a toxic mixture of oil, grease, heavy metals, and other pollutants. At offshore wells elsewhere in Alaska and throughout the country, EPA requires operators to reinject this toxic soup back into the reservoir, achieving “zero discharge” of pollution. Only in Cook Inlet does EPA allow the contaminated brew to be dumped directly into coastal waters. As the oil reservoirs beneath the Inlet have been pumped nearly dry, more and more seawater is required to keep up the pressure – and more pollution is being dumped into Cook Inlet. Today’s filing by Trustees for Alaska cites EPA documents showing that the waste stream has doubled since 1999, and is projected to grow to nearly 10 million gallons per day during the 5-year life of the challenged permit.

To accommodate the growing torrents of pollution, EPA has relied on vastly larger “mixing zones” – areas of Cook Inlet at the end of each discharge pipe where high concentrations of pollution are allowed. The theory is that by the time the contamination reaches the edge of a “mixing zone,” enough dilution has occurred to render the water outside the mixing zone clean enough to comply with water quality standards.  Click here to read the full press release.

Click here to read the brief.