Beautiful, all-white beluga whales (Delphinapterus leuca) living in Alaska's Cook Inlet are already endangered, but now they face a new threat from a leaking gas pipeline. Owned by Hilcorp, Inc. the fifty-two year old pipe is leaking an estimated 210,000-310,000 cubic feet of natural gas a day. The pipe carries natural gas to four offshore oil platforms. The leak was discovered by Hillcorp on February 7th when a helicopter pilot reported seeing bubbles reaching the surface. Weather and ice have foiled attempts to reach the location of the leak. This situation pointedly demonstrates the difficulty of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. The company says it cannot be shut off without risking further disaster by triggering a crude oil leak. That statement is disputed by activists who maintain the company is refusing to shut off the gas flow because it wants the oil platforms to continue operating a full capacity. Hilcorp specializes in buying older producing properties from other companies to squeeze more profits from their enhanced production. One of the platforms that it bought from Shell is the oldest in the inlet, erected in 1964. It is supplied by the leaking gas pipeline.
There are an estimated 340 belugas left in Cook Inlet after a dramatic decline in their population during the 1990's. Parts of the Inlet including the area of the leak were designated critical habitat for the beluga under the Endangered Species Act after the whale was declared endangered in 2008. The Inlet is also home to endangered stellar sea lions and humpback whales. Cook Inlet Keepers, a conservation organization, has filed a notice of intent to sue unless Hilcorp stops pollution within sixty days. An Alaska regulatory agency said Hilcorp has "a disregard for regulatory compliance that is endemic to its... Alaska operations." Its compliance record is poor to say the least. The company has accounted for more than a quarter of all violations on record with the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission since 1977. Incredibly, the company's website says "our commitment to environmental and social responsibility is unwavering." US Person thinks talk is cheap when profits are large.
Hilcorp is owned by Jeffery Hildebrand, #123 on the Forbes' 2016 list of the wealthiest Americans. Hilcorp is now the largest privately owned oil company in the country. It is reported that Hildebrand bought conservationist and musician John Denver's estate in a secret sale for $8.5 million according to the New York Times. Hildebrand and his wife also opened up River Oaks Donuts in the exclusive River Oaks neighborhood of Houston. Donuts definitely taste better with money.