A new oil pipeline dredging operation off the coast of Alaska is threatening the health of nearby communities, as the spill of toxic heavy crude oil is discovered in a nearby lake.
The oil pipeline is operated by the Canadian company TransCanada, and it runs under the Bering Strait in the Arctic Ocean, just west of the Canadian mainland.
It is a major environmental hazard to the region.
It is estimated that up to 40,000 barrels of oil a day of heavy crude from Canada’s oil sands can leak into the lake.
TransCanada is already facing a number of lawsuits, and now, the company says it has agreed to spend $25 million to dredge a section of the pipeline and to pay a $50 million civil penalty.
The $25m payment will be the largest environmental fines issued in US history.
But environmental groups are concerned about the extent to which the spill will impact nearby communities.
The National Wildlife Federation is fighting the proposed pipeline dredges, saying it will lead to increased sediment and oil contamination in the nearby communities of the Chukchi Sea and the Barents Sea.
The Barent is a region where many species are threatened by climate change and the release of toxic crude oil from oil sands production.
Transcanada is also suing the US Army Corps of Engineers over the dredges in the Chugachuk area.
In November, the Army Corps agreed to buy a $40m loan from TransCanada to help pay for the dredging of the spill.
In a letter to TransCanada last month, the agency said the company had already spent $75m on dredging and cleanup.
TransCanada also said the Corps was “committed to addressing the issue as quickly as possible”.
TransCanada has yet to comment on the proposed dredges.
But the company is planning to begin the process of constructing a new pipeline that would run underneath the Chisholm River, a major tributary of the Baring Sea, to the Canadian border.
In June, TransCanada said it would spend $10 million to develop a new, larger pipeline that could carry up to 790,000 tonnes of oil per day from Alberta to the Chilcotin oil fields in Labrador.
But that new pipeline is expected to be more than half the size of the one already in place.