Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:50 PM on Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jack-up rig on the Spit stirs historical memory

By Michael McBride

Looming 437 feet above the Homer Spit and seen from miles away, the oil drilling platform stirs emotions like few other things can and it encourages a look at the past present and future of oil in Kachemak Bay.

How many of those voting in state and local elections today can remember the drill rig George C. Ferris stuck in the mud or the Rowan Middleton provocatively parked just a few hundred yards from the Center for Coastal Studies marine science field station in Peterson Bay?

Which of the oil company executives making decisions effecting Cook Inlet know that 37 years ago in l975 a few local fellows banded together and sued the state, Standard Oil of California, Shell, Texaco and Union Oil in order to reverse the sale of $25 million of oil leases in Kachemak Bay which would have turned the Spit into an industrial area?

We maintained that the sale was not "consistent with the public interest," was not "for the maximum benefit of the people" and was not "subject to reasonable concurrent uses." We were emboldened with an article by a Fish and Game biologist, "Kachemak Bay, the Richest Bay in the World?" It compared the sale price to the annual wholesale value of the product coming across the seafood docks.

The Homer City Council and many others supported big oil in our bay. A period of acrimony began that pitted area people against one another. "Your boat uses gas, doesn't it?" seemed to imply an anything goes attitude about unrestrained challenges to marine productivity.

Signing the buy-back legislation in l978 Gov. Jay Hammond wrote "this represents a victory of the people over a government which did not listen to their wishes. Kachemak Bay is one of the richest marine areas in the world and one of the state's major recreation areas. We are going to preserve those values for our children. But Kachemak Bay has an even larger meaning. It was a time when Alaskans rose up to say that in this state there are some places that we consider so valuable that we will not risk their destruction, even if we produce a little less oil and make a little less money in the process. It was an important victory for the people and the conscience of Alaska."

Today Homer is home to a thriving economy, is valued statewide and nationally as a place of such goodness that young people move here for their futures and retirees come here to spend their golden years. Lest however we rest on our laurels, the fox is in the hen house. The state's Department of Natural Resources, then and now is over friendly with big oil and big coal and Big Pebble. Lest we forget, the oil, coal and gold belongs to each of us in our "owner state." Our elected representatives negotiate to sell or not sell our resources and are accountable to us.

Does it carry dangerous invasive species? The rig itself is a dangerous species. When it drills off Anchor Point the tide will carry the toxic drilling mud and oil spills to our bay just downstream. Does the reader know that Cook Inlet is the only place in American coastal waters where rigs are allowed to dump their toxins versus the more expensive method of onshore disposal? The owners of the Spit rig say that they would not knowingly harm the bay, well then, they should commit to not put one drop of pollutants in Cook Inlet.

Are any of us naive enough to think that they would agree to that or that there will not be spills and purposeful pollution?

Michael McBride lives in China Poot Bay and was a plaintiff in the 1975 state Supreme Court lawsuit forcing the buy-back of Kachemak Bay oil leases.