Hilcorp Alaska LLC says it will be taking steps to begin repairs on a natural gas pipeline that has been leaking into Cook Inlet for weeks. The pipeline is leaking an estimated 193,000 to 215,000 cubic feet of gas a day into Alaska’s Cook Inlet, which contains endangered beluga whales.


The site of the leak from Hilcorp’s pipeline


Hilcorp says the leak hasn’t caused any significant environmental issues but ice has made it too risky to start repairing the pipeline. The process is complicated, according to the company, as simply shutting off the pipeline can release more product into the environment if pressure in the pipe is shut off.


“Shutting in oil production allows the gas pipeline to operate with 65 psi, the minimum positive pressure. Minimum positive pressure is necessary to prevent water from entering the line and a potential washout of the residual crude oil that remains in the pipeline,” the company explained in a statement. “Further, maintaining minimum pressure on the line will allow for the platforms to run essential equipment and safety systems.”


The pipeline moves processed natural gas from shore to four petroleum production platforms in the inlet. The leak may have begun in mid-December. According to Hilcorp’s statement, weather conditions have prevented shutting in oil production to allow the reduced pressure.


“Shutting in wells and idling lines and equipment in very cold temperatures create a known risk of freeze-up and potential rupture,” Hilcorp wrote. “Warmer ambient temperatures now permit a safer shut in process of the wells along with the associated lines and equipment.”


Hilcorp has been in discussions with Gov. Bill Walker and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation about the issue, the statement said.


“I appreciate that the company officials are implementing a prudent plan of action,” Walker said in his own statement. “Alaskans want peace of mind that our waters are protected.”


As Hilcorp works with state and federal agencies to finalize the plan to reduce gas line pressure, shut-in production and repair the pipeline, the safety of personnel, wildlife and the environment remain the top priority,” Hilcorp wrote. “Planning and preparations have already begun, and once approved by the regulators, shut-in procedures will begin this weekend.”


A crew and equipment are on standby to do the repairs “as soon as it can be done safely,” according to Hilcorp, which said it will likely occur in the next two weeks, based on weather forecasts.


The latest information on the company’s progress can be found online at HilcorpResponse.com.