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Corps resolves two Clean Water Act violations in Cook Inlet Basin

On March 15, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District, resolved two separate violations of the Clean Water Act by two oil and gas companies conducting 3D seismic surveys in the Cook Inlet Basin. 

The first case stemmed from permit violations by Apache Alaska Corporation who was conducting a 3D seismic survey in a 684-square-mile area near Tyonek. The State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) notified the Corps that Apache had drilled a number of shot holes within a Corps permit stipulated no-drill buffer of previously undiscovered cultural resources.

In addition to complying with standards established in Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, Corps permittees must also comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Upon being notified of the permit non-compliance, Apache voluntarily agreed to not detonate the 13 charges located in the no-drill buffers of four cultural resources.

Additionally, Apache did not complete an archeological survey prior to drilling shot holes as required by the Corps permit. The archeological survey was necessary to identify and protect cultural resources from being damaged by the drilling operation and the detonation of explosives placed in the drilled holes.

To resolve the permit non-compliance, Apache proposed to disable the explosives within the 13 shot holes and not detonate them in order to avoid damage to the four cultural resources and the Corps accepted this solution.  To resolve the issue of the incomplete cultural resource survey, Apache volunteered to delay starting their operations after a scheduled end of year break and proposed a modified plan to survey for cultural resources.  The Corps consulted with the SHPO, two Federally recognized Tribes, and others to develop a programmatic agreement that included mitigation for the adverse effect caused by Apache’s seismic survey.

The second violation involved Buccaneer Energy and their contractor, Weems Geophysical.  The companies discharged fill material into waters of the United States associated with drilling over 800 shot holes in wetlands after applying for, but before receiving a Clean Water Act permit for the activity.

            The companies were conducting a 3D seismic survey in Kenai.  Upon being notified by the Corps that they were in violation of the Clean Water Act, the companies voluntarily agreed to cease their activities. The Corps resolved the case by granting an after-the-fact permit for the activity. The Corps permit also authorizes Buccaneer to drill an additional 266 shot holes in wetlands adjacent to the mouth of the Kenai River. The Corps permit requires the activity be done when the ground is frozen and no closer than 500 feet from the Kenai River to mitigate the activity’s adverse effects.

            Kevin Morgan, Chief of the Regulatory Division for the Alaska District, stated, “The violations resulted in delays in both companies’ schedules and reduced the amount of area they could survey during the winter but the Corps takes seriously our responsibility to protect Alaska’s aquatic and historic resources, while allowing reasonable development.”

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