Cook Inlet

Kaitlin Vadla

The federal government is inching toward an oil and gas lease sale in Cook Inlet, covering about one million acres from the southern end of Kalgin Island down to Augustine Island. 

On the Central Kenai Peninsula, there’s a different kind of sale in progress.


Rashah McChesney/Alaska Energy Desk

The U.S. Department of the Interior said oil and gas companies should pay more to extract fossil fuels from federal lands and waters, like the million acres that could be up for bid soon in Cook Inlet.

It’s one of several recommendations the department made in a report released over the holiday weekend. And it’s drawing ire from both sides of the aisle.

Redoubt Reporter

Commercial fishermen are going to court in an attempt to keep Cook Inlet open to salmon fishing. That’s following a controversial decision by the feds to close a large swath of Upper Cook Inlet that’s long been managed by the state and is an important area for drift gillnet permit holders.

Photo: Sabine Poux/KDLL

Fishermen in Cook Inlet reeled in more salmon and higher earnings in 2021 than they did last year. That’s according to the 2021 harvest summary released by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game earlier this week. 

But comparing 2020 and 2021 reveals just a small part of a much larger story about the state of the fishery. 

Redoubt Reporter

A large swath of Upper Cook Inlet will officially be closed to commercial salmon fishing next summer.

The feds released a final rule this week adopting the proposed plan from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets policy in Alaska’s federal waters. Last December, that council voted to close part of Cook Inlet to commercial salmon fishing ― an area that starts three miles offshore and extends from the southern tip of Kalgin Island to Anchor Point.

Rashah McChesney/Alaska Energy Desk

The federal government has filed another draft environmental impact statement for a federal oil and gas lease sale in Cook Inlet and is asking for comments from the public.

It’s the second time in less than a year that the feds have put out an environmental review on a potential Cook Inlet sale, since the Biden Administration halted the process leading up to the auction earlier this year. That pause was part of a larger executive order aimed at fighting climate change.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

The federal government said it will continue taking steps toward a potential oil and gas lease sale in Cook Inlet, after a Louisiana district court judge ordered the Biden Administration to resume its lease programs there and in the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has been at odds with several Republican states over the federal leasing program since Biden halted the two auctions and promised to review the program earlier this year. It was part of a larger executive order aimed at fighting climate change.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Cook Inlet salmon fishery was once an economic engine for Kenai.

But the fishing there is no longer lucrative. Many fishermen with deep ties to the inlet are retiring — or moving elsewhere. 


Redoubt Reporter

Commercial setnet fishermen in Cook Inlet had their season cut short last week. When the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the Kenai River to sportfishing for king salmon, it closed the east setnet fishery completely. Some of them had only had a handful of openers.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Commercial fishing is underway across Upper Cook Inlet. Some fishermen to the north of Kenai have had their nets in the water since May, but permit holders in the setnet and drift gillnet fisheries are just getting into the heat of the season as the Kenai and Kasilof sockeye runs pick up. That’s where the majority of the harvest is.

Companies have been dreaming about turning Cook Inlet’s tides into energy for years. The inlet has the largest tides in the country and some of the largest in the world.

This summer, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is doing a study on Cook Inlet’s tides to learn more about what the resource looks like and how it can best be harnessed.

Homer’s Levi Kilcher is working on that study. He joined us on this week's Kenai Conversation to talk about the study and about Cook Inlet's tidal potential.

Alaska DEC

The federal agency that regulates pipeline safety is giving oil and gas company Hilcorp three more months to fix a line running under Cook Inlet.

Hilcorp’s line, which delivers fuel gas to a system of oil platforms in the inlet, sprung a leak last month. The 55-year-old pipe has leaked several times prior, most recently in 2019.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Cook Inlet has long been a hotbed of oil and gas development in Alaska.

But for years, renewable energy advocates have been eyeing another Cook Inlet resource — tides. The inlet has some of the largest tides in the world but their energy potential has remained untapped.

One company is trying to change that, and says it could have a generator in the water in the next three years.


Alaska DEC

Energy company Hilcorp has been ordered to replace an undersea pipeline in Cook Inlet after it leaked gas last week, for the fifth time in the last several years.

In a corrective order dated April 6, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration told Hilcorp it must temporarily repair the 55-year-old pipeline by April 17, permanently repair it by May 1 and submit a plan for the pipeline’s replacement within 45 days.

Alaska Department of Fish & Game

Two small commercial fisheries open soon in Upper Cook Inlet.

The commercial herring fishing season starts April 20 and closes May 31. The season for hooligan — a type of smelt — will be open between May 1 and June 30.

Rashah McChesney/Alaska Energy Desk

Oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters is on pause. That includes a sale in Alaska’s Cook Inlet that was originally slated for later this year and is now suspended indefinitely.

At the same time, the federal government is reviewing its energy program and gathering  input from industry experts, environmental advocates and tribal leaders across the country. Several representatives from those groups, including two from Alaska, weighed in on the program at an Interior Department forum Thursday.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Hilcorp purchased several blocks of federal leases in Cook Inlet in 2017.

Before it can even think about exploring for oil and gas there, the company has to do a geohazard survey to gauge potential geological hazards in the area.

The company planned to survey four lease blocks last year but was delayed because of the pandemic. It estimates the survey will take about a month and will happen during fishing season in Lower Cook Inlet.

Debbie Boege-Tobin

Cook Inlet belugas used to follow salmon through the Kenai River in the summer. Now, they’re mostly just spotted in other seasons.

Researchers from NOAA Fisheries aren’t sure why. It’s one of many questions they’re asking about the endangered population to better understand why the belugas aren’t rebounding and how the agency can support their recovery.

A study featuring a relatively new DNA sampling technique might help them find answers.

Rashah McChesney/Alaska Energy Desk

The federal government has hit pause on preparations for an oil lease sale in Cook Inlet, after President Joe Biden signed an executive order indefinitely halting new leases.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was gearing up to solicit bids on 1 million acres in Cook Inlet’s federal waters later this year. But Biden said on Jan. 27 his administration wants to review the federal leasing program — one part of a broader order geared at combating climate change.

Redoubt Reporter

Upper Cook Inlet fishermen should expect another below-average sockeye salmon run this year.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasts a return of 4,370,000 sockeye to Upper Cook Inlet in 2021, according to a report released Friday

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

The federal government has released a draft environmental impact statement on an oil and gas lease sale in Cook Inlet, tentatively scheduled for late 2021.

BOEM is planning to solicit bids on over 1 million acres in the inlet’s federal waters, which includes anything more than three miles offshore. The agency first published its notice of intent in September and released the EIS draft Wednesday.

Some fishermen and conservationists say that wasn’t enough time.

Redoubt Reporter

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche is again moving to establish a buyback program for set-net permits in Cook Inlet.

The program would reduce the number of commercial set-net fishermen on the east side of the inlet. Proponents of the bill, like Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association Director Ken Coleman, say that’s to reduce pressure and create a more sustainable fishery in an area that’s been under stress for years.

“Our thought was if we could reduce our numbers, then those who would be left behind in a reduction scenario, assuming that some people would leave the fishing community, that those that are left behind would have a better chance for ongoing financial viability," he said.

Courtesy of Bottom Line Charters

Scientists are still digging for answers about the low abundance of adult razor clams on the east side of Cook Inlet. Meantime, charter companies are taking passengers over to the west side, where razors abound.

“The west side is like Deep Creek and Clam Gulch were 20, 24 years ago," said Ernie Kerby. He’s owned Bottom Line Charters, in Ninilchik, for almost three decades.

Ocean Alert

You don’t have to know much about what you’re seeing to make the Ocean Alert app work. Say you’re driving past Turnagain Arm and you see a beluga.

“You can say, ‘I saw a whale.’ Not have to know what species it is or anything like that," said Jacob Levenson, a biologist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. “Or you can say, ‘I saw this whale, here’s a picture of its tail,’ and then there’s an artificial intelligence backend, Flukebook, that tells you if we’ve seen that whale before.”

Levenson and other BOEM scientists are using the new Ocean Alert app to crowdsource sightings of marine megafauna that will inform the agency’s work in federal waters.

NOAA

The chief scientist at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut is leading a pilot study on the stressors impacting beluga whales in Cook Inlet.

Tracy Romano and her research team received a $10,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to look into genes that help Cook Inlet belugas, a critically endangered population of whales, respond to environmental and manmade stressors.

“And so we’re trying to ground truth some of these molecular sequences and then look at the genes in the skin and compare skin biopsies that we have from the endangered Cook Inlet belugas, but then also some skin biopsies that we’ve archived over the years from relatively healthy belugas from the Chukchi Sea and Bristol Bay, Alaska," Romano said.

Redoubt Reporter file photo

The Kenai River drainage will officially close to king salmon fishing Friday due to low numbers.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the closure on Wednesday, set to last through July 31, which would be the end of the king salmon fishing season on the Kenai anyway. The river was already restricted to catch-and-release only due to low returns, but the closure goes a step further and prohibits bait everywhere in the river from the mouth upstream to Skilak Lake.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Alaskans pretty well know at this point that king salmon are in trouble. Biologists been looking into why for about a decade now, without a single smoking gun. And that seems to the way it’s going to be—no single answer.

A group of researchers led through the University of Alaska published a study this week probing a little more into the freshwater part of the lives of king salmon, also known as chinook. They focused on fifteen streams in the Cook Inlet basin, from the Chulitna in the north to the Anchor River in the south, to find some answers about how what happens in the freshwater affects king salmon survival. And, like other studies have shown, it’s complicated.

Oil and gas producer Hilcorp is continuing its Alaska expansion with three new exploration leases in the Cook Inlet basin.

Hilcorp, which operates most of the platforms in the inlet as well as a number of onshore gas wells and the cross-inlet pipeline, won three leases in the state’s areawide Cook Inlet and Alaska Peninsula oil and gas lease auction this week. The three leases cost the company about $178,000, with an average price of $21.43 per acre.

NOAA

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has received a $1.1 million grant from the National Marine Fisheries Service to continue studying Cook Inlet beluga whales. The study will include more detailed information about the whales’ habitat and diet.

The Cook Inlet population of belugas is classified as endangered by the federal government. The most recent count estimated that there are about 279 of them left, which is down from the 2016 count of 328. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why the whales are declining, but the Fish and Game study is intended to help shed some more light on that question.

Alaska Division of Oil and Gas

A Cook Inlet oil and gas producer has asked the state for permission to suspend operations in two area until at least April 2021.

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