Hilcorp Alaska, LLC – Ecological Monitoring Projects

On 18 Nov. 2014, Hilcorp Alaska, LLC assumed 50% ownership and 100% operatorship of the Milne Point Unit, and 100% ownership and 100% operatorship of Northstar Island and Endicott Island (including the main production Island and the satellite drilling island) from BP Exploration (Alaska), Inc. As part of this transfer of assets, Hilcorp Alaska, LLC assumed responsibility for several ecological monitoring projects associated with the transferred North Slope assets. The links herein will serve as a repository for the annual reports that are generated for each of the projects. Only 2015 and later reports are included as that was the first year Hilcorp executed the projects. Check back each year for new annual reports. Please contact Beth Sharp at (907) 777-8436 for copies of reports prior to 2015.

Monitoring of Industrial Sounds, Seals and Bowhead Whales Near Hilcorp’s Northstar Oil Development, Alaskan Beaufort Sea

Project Summary:

The impacts of underwater sound associated with oil exploration and production on marine life, especially marine mammals, has become an important concern over the past several decades. Since 2001, underwater sounds produced by Northstar production island have been recorded in the early fall during annual migration of bowhead whales. Monitoring of the underwater sounds at Northstar has been part of a larger study designed to assess the effect of sounds on bowhead whales. Long-term changes in sound levels at Northstar could reflect variation in ambient sound levels (generally associated with wind and sea state), alterations in Northstar operations, and/or other human activity including commercial shipping traffic, private cruise vessels, and additional oil and gas development activities in the vicinity of Northstar.

Bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) summer in the eastern Beaufort Sea where they feed on euphausiids (krill), copepods (zooplankton), and other free-swimming organisms. In the fall, they migrate west along the north coast of Alaska, turn southwest past Point Barrow, and head for wintering grounds in the Bering Sea. The southern edge of the fall migration corridor is typically within a few miles of Northstar Island. Since 2001, in conjunction with the monitoring of Northstar island sounds, seafloor recorders have been used to record whale calls north of Northstar from August through early October, when migrating whales pass the island. Comparisons of the numbers, locations, and types of whale calls can provide insight into long-term trends in whale migration and calling behavior during the migration.

Annual Reports (please contact Beth Sharp at (907) 777-8436 for copies of reports prior to 2015):

Beaufort Sea Fish Monitoring Study of Nearshore Fishes in the Prudhoe Bay Region of Hilcorp’s Operations

Project Summary:

This study is a continuation of a series of annual fish monitoring surveys that have been conducted in the Prudhoe Bay area for over 30 years. The study’s objective is to collect biological data necessary for monitoring the distribution, abundance and health of regional anadromous and amphidromous fish stocks that are important to the native subsistence fishery at Nuiqsut that operates in the lower Colville River.

Beginning in the 1980s, surveys were conducted in and around the Prudhoe Bay area during the summer open-water season to monitor the health and status of resident fish species. Initial surveys were designed to assess the effects of the West Dock Causeway, which was built in the late 1970s. The fish monitoring program was continued in the 1980s and 1990s in response to oil field expansion, particularly construction of the Endicott Causeway. Surveys have been conducted every summer from 1981-2013, except 1999 and 2000, and the current survey protocols have been used since 1985. The information compiled from the studies over the past 30+ years represents one of the longest continuous biological databases ever collected on arctic fishes. Based upon early recommendations by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, monitoring has focused on four fish species: Arctic cisco (Coregonus autumnalis), least cisco (C. sardinella), broad whitefish (C. nasus), and Dolly Varden char (Salvelinus malma).

Annual Reports (please contact Beth Sharp at (907) 777-8436 for copies of reports prior to 2015):

Bathymetric and Shoreline Change Study in Endicott Lagoon

Project Summary:

The Endicott Lagoon area on the North Coast of Alaska experienced significant bathymetric and shoreline change in the circa 1989 to 2010 period. Construction of the Endicott Causeway in 1986 created a relatively quiescent hydrodynamic environment in the northwest section of the Endicott Lagoon and high sedimentation rates in this area occurred in response to the reduced hydrodynamic intensity. The goal of the study was to determine to what extent the sedimentation and erosion, evident in the Endicott Lagoon area prior to 2010, continued into the current decade.

This report quantifies bathymetric change and shoreline change in the circa 2010 to 2016 time period relative to change in the circa 1990 to 2010 time period. In the 1990 to 2010 period, rapid sedimentation (up to 5 cm/yr) was observed in the northwest part of the Endicott Lagoon proximal to the causeway. In the 2010-2016 period, bathymetric data showed a decrease in sedimentation rate in the northwest part of the lagoon proximal to the causeway, and an increase in sedimentation rate (to about 5 cm/yr) in the southeast part of the Lagoon proximal to the causeway. Quantitative shoreline change observations were made in this study at selected areas for Duck Island, Howe Island, and the shoreline near the base of the causeway and the Inner Breach.

Annual Reports (please contact Beth Sharp at (907) 777-8436 for copies of reports prior to 2010):

Subsistence Whaling Survey at Cross Island

Project Summary:

Offshore development activities and facilities in the Beaufort Sea raise concerns for the Village of Nuiqsut and native whalers throughout the North Slope Borough about potential effects on subsistence activities, and particularly the bowhead whale hunt that occurs annually in the fall. Whalers are concerned about potential disruptions that may alter the feeding and migration patterns of bowhead whales and other marine mammals, with the possible result that fall whaling crews must move further out to sea, thereby reducing success while increasing risk and costs of the hunt.

To assess potential impacts, standard ethnographic participatory observational methods have been employed annually since 2001 by a socio-cultural researcher who accompanies whaling crews at Cross Island during each whaling season. Three primary methods of information collection have been employed – systematic observations; collection of daily vessel, whale sighting, and whale strike locational information from handheld GPS units; and whalers’ self-reports and perceptions. All whaling boats are given handheld GPS units to record their travel locations (tracks) and significant point locations while they are searching for whales. Debriefing whalers after the hunt by talking with them while examining their GPS tracks on a computer screen is also an important source of information.

Annual Reports (please contact Beth Sharp at (907) 777-8436 for copies of reports prior to 2015):

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