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Draft Cook Inlet LNG Pipeline Document Reveals Devastating Impact on Endangered Belugas According to EIA

WASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–A draft version of an application submitted by Alaska Gas Development
Corporation (AGDC) to ÔÇ£takeÔÇØ marine mammals during the construction of a
liquefied natural gas pipeline and terminal in Cook Inlet, Alaska
suggests that the project could expose nearly half of the population of
resident endangered beluga whales to dangerous levels of noise.

According to the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA),
halfway through the public comment period for the project, the draft
application was deleted and a new version of the application was
published with calculations that resulted in dramatically reduced
impacts to belugas. The revised figures make the application much more
likely to be approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

ÔÇ£We have serious concerns about the discrepancies between AGDCÔÇÖs draft
application and the final application and how they were able to arrive
at such different conclusions regarding the impact of their activities
on belugas given that the project has not changed much if at all,ÔÇØ said
EIA Policy Analyst Daniel Hubbell.

There are an estimated 328 belugas in Cook Inlet and the population is
listed as critically endangered. Scientists do not know why they are not
recovering but have identified noise as a high level threat. The AGDC
project, which is an 800 mile pipeline, proposes 101 total days of pile
driving in the Inlet, among other noise-related impacts, in areas in or
near critical beluga habitat.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the harming, harassing or
injuring (ÔÇ£takeÔÇØ) of beluga whales unless it can be demonstrated that
only ÔÇ£small numbersÔÇØ of whales will be harmed and that it will have a
ÔÇ£negligible impactÔÇØ on the species or stocks. The National Marine
Fisheries Service (NMFS) in the past has approved takes for Cook Inlet
belugas not exceeding 10% of the population.

During the required 30-day public comment period for beluga takes for
the AGDC LNG pipeline project, two different versions of the application
were posted on the NMFS website. AGDCÔÇÖs final proposal requests an
annual take of 32 beluga whales, exactly ten percent of the population,
from 2019-2024. But for over half of the required 30-day public comment
period a draft version of AGDCÔÇÖs plan was posted on the website. In the
earlier draft obtained by EIA, AGDC estimates as many as 151 whales
would be exposed to dangerous levels of noise. The agency also had an
incorrect comment period closure date posted on its website for several
weeks.

This has left watchdog groups like EIA scrambling to evaluate AGDCÔÇÖs
proposal and pull together comments.
However, EIA maintains that taking even 10% of the Cook Inlet beluga
population is too high given its fragile status.

ÔÇ£No matter how you look at it, this project is a danger to the beluga
whaleÔÇÖs recovery,ÔÇØ said Hubbell, ÔÇ£and until this populationÔÇÖs decline is
better understood NOAA Fisheries should reject AGDCÔÇÖs application.ÔÇØ

Contacts

Environmental Investigation Agency
Daniel Hubbell, Policy Analyst
[email protected]
or
Lindsay
Moran, Head of Communications
[email protected]