Commentary: Activists distort events to thwart offshore development

By Randall Luthi

Companies that work in any offshore industry understand the seriousness of their work and take extra precautions whenever possible to preserve the waters they do business in. That’s why it’s frustrating when environmental activist groups attempt to mislead the general public about offshore industries and the important business they do. It has become common practice for environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGO’s) to distort small events in an attempt to convince people that all offshore activity is unsafe.

No one is more familiar with such tactics than the offshore energy industry. ENGOs frequently target offshore oil and gas operations and use minor incidents as justification for why the offshore energy industry should be stopped entirely. One such example is currently taking place in the waters of Alaska’s Cook Inlet.

An independent operator, Hilcorp Alaska LLC, detected a small natural gas leak in one of its 8’’ pipelines in the Cook Inlet and immediately reported it to the appropriate regulators. Due to the current ice conditions, the company cannot safely send divers to repair the leak at this time. The company has stated that their actions are dictated by safe operations and environmental considerations. In the meantime, the company has lowered the pressure of the line and is conducting a variety of monitoring activities to ensure that the leak has minimal impacts to the environment.

Unfortunately, activist organizations are seeking to use this Cook Inlet incident as justification for why the company should not be allowed to operate in other offshore areas and attempting to convince the public that any form of offshore energy development is hazardous. Nothing could be further from the truth.

These overzealous recriminations are hollow, but dangerous; especially when they catch the attention of large ENGO’s who exploit the incidents to achieve their national goals. In this case, the Cook Inletkeeper’s dramatic over-exaggeration of the incident has caught the attention of national groups such as the Wilderness League and Inside Climate News. These organizations have now inserted themselves into public discussion of the incident and are attempting to influence the regulatory outcome. Groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club use these devious playbooks as well – both groups have highlighted minor local incidents in an attempt to achieve wider objectives and incite regulatory change.

Make no mistake, incidents of any size should be avoided and given immediate attention. That’s why response plans are imperative for companies who work in the offshore energy industry. The company being targeted by activists in the Cook Inlet had a response plan in place, and carried it out immediately upon discovering the leak. Unfortunately, not one ENGO has mentioned this in their coverage of the incident or the operator. Instead, they have chosen to call out other projects the company is working on, in attempt to sway the public and regulators.

These national activists consistently fail to tell a more complete story, when it doesn’t fit their narrative. Important details like a successful record of safe operations, rigorous adherence to regulations, job creation numbers, and tax dollars paid to local and state governments are always ignored when ENGOs attack the offshore energy industry.

Accidents happen, but how an operator responds to them often says more about the company than the actual incident. In order to evaluate and report an incident, the public needs facts and perspective. There is no place for overblown panic in the offshore energy.

Randall Luthi, is president of the National Ocean Industries Association.

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