Story last updated at 4:25 p.m. Thursday, August 15, 2002

Inlet dumping needs study
I like and respect Drew Scalzi. I also disagree with him on oil industry dumping in Cook Inlet fisheries. At a recent candidates forum, Drew endorsed several popular industry arguments: the wastes are nontoxic, the inlet flushes them out, and there's no proof of harm.

True, the drilling muds alone may be largely clay, but industry blends in a variety of additives to facilitate drilling, and the drill cuttings which come from the drill hole are frequently laced with toxic heavy metals. Government studies have found high levels of mercury in fish around Gulf of Mexico rigs discharging the very same wastes as those dumped in Cook Inlet.

And drilling muds and cuttings may not be the worst problem: according to the EPA, industry dumps more than 2 billion gallons of oil-laced "produced water" into Cook Inlet each year, and research stemming from the Exxon Valdez spill shows oil is considerably more toxic to juvenile salmon than previously thought (at levels as low as 1 part per billion).

Next, Cook Inlet flushing. The net flow of water out of the inlet depends largely on the freshwater inputs from rivers and streams in the upper inlet, and these inputs cease to exist when the winter freeze sets-in. Yet mixing models used to rationalize the dumping fail to recognize this obvious point. While tides and currents of Cook Inlet are exceedingly complex, in 2002, it is time to stop using our oceans as toxic dumping grounds.

And finally, the proof-of-harm argument. As late as 1991, we saw tobacco executives swear before Congress there was no proof nicotine was addictive nor that cigarettes cause cancer. That's because industry lawyers know that putting the burden on ordinary citizens to show "cause and effect" harm is a sure-fire way to confuse science and policy.

Industry always has a financial incentive to spread its costs broadly across society, and by dumping wastes into Cook Inlet, industry saves the cost of proper disposal. In the meantime, the public and its resources bear the long-term costs.

Nonetheless, there is evidence of harm: a recent EPA study found a disturbing array of toxins in Cook Inlet subsistence resources, and a new Norway study found oil contaminants make female cod spawn up to six weeks later than normal. I know Drew cares deeply about Cook Inlet fisheries and the families they support. And in a state disproportionately reliant on oil and gas production, we owe our future generations a full and complete inquiry. Bob Shavelson


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