This program’s purpose is to monitor the biological and chemical environment in Cook Inlet and nearby areas to detect impacts of oil industry operations. Using various strategies that include collecting, compiling, and disseminating chemical and biological monitoring and compliance data, the planned outcome is that we develop Cook Inlet sediment and water quality assessment partnerships that integrate local, regional, state, and national initiatives for monitoring ambient contaminants.
Under OPA90, Cook Inlet RCAC is responsible for numerous mandates relating to monitoring the environmental health of Cook Inlet and in 1991 the Environmental Monitoring Committee (EMC) initiated steps to develop and manage a comprehensive environmental monitoring program for Cook Inlet. The goal of the program was to determine if oil-industry operations in Cook Inlet were having adverse effects on the surrounding ecosystem and, if so, to document their sources, magnitude, and spatial and temporal trends. In developing a monitoring program, the committee solicited lists of concerns and recommendations from agency personnel, citizens, and scientist with expertise in conducting marine environmental programs that focused on hydrocarbon and metal contaminants.
To narrow the program scope, a workshop was held in 1992. Since then, Cook Inlet RCAC, has conducted numerous independent studies that assess contaminant levels in deep benthic sediments (ocean bottom) and on beaches (intertidal zones) throughout the Inlet. Studies have been done in areas upstream of oil industry operations, near industry operations including produced water discharge zones, and in areas downstream of operations where contaminants could potentially accumulate. Contaminant analyses focused on sediments, but analyses of the tissues of sediment- and beach-dwelling organisms such as clams and blue mussels were also conducted. In addition to direct measurements of sediment, water column, and tissue contaminants, laboratory toxicity tests were also conducted to determine sediment contaminant effects on standard test organisms. A description and list of early studies is provided under the History of Monitoring Program heading at left. Descriptions of several larger partnership projects are described on the linked pages Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP), Integrated Cook Inlet Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (ICIEMAP), Beluga Winter Prey and Habitat, and Arctic Relict Fauna and Flora.