Alaska News Nightly: February 16, 2012

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Crews Continue to Respond to Exploratory Well Blow Out

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Gas is still flowing intermittently from an uncontrolled exploratory drilling well on the North Slope. The well suffered a blow out Wednesday morning. It’s located on land, a few miles from the Beaufort Sea. Cathy Foerster is the engineering commissioner for the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. She says the well is releasing a mix of gas and water.

“This is a real dynamic situation. If you had called me a few hours ago, I would have told you there was no more gas. But now there’s more gas flowing. So it’s just a dynamic situation,” Foerster said.

Nabors Drilling was drilling the well for Repsol, a Spanish company. 2,500 feet below the surface, they hit a gas pocket that sent the drilling mud out of the well. Repsol estimates 42,000 gallons of drilling mud spilled onto the well pad and surrounding snow covered tundra. The company can’t estimate how much gas has been released. The area is still evacuated because of the danger of sparking the natural gas. Foerster says crews won’t return to the drilling pad until they’re confident the gas has stopped or they have a way to ensure the gas won’t blow back towards the rig.

“Since the rig has been shut down now for more than 24 hours and its cold up there and there’s lots of fluids in the drilling operation, lots of things are frozen off. So the first step will be to thaw things out so they can get the rig back to running,” Foerster said.

Repsol has contracted with Wild Well Control out of Texas to bring the well back under control. A team from the company arrived in the area early this morning. Foerster says engineers and inspectors with Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will approve their plan for killing the well. She says they will likely use heavier drilling mud to do the job.

“If you can get heavy enough mud down in the well then the weight of the mud will exceed the pressure of the formation that’s flowing. And once there’s greater pressure pushing down then up it will stop,” Foerster said.

Foerster says once the well is controlled, the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will investigate the accident. Foerster says Repsol may be able to use the same well, but they may have to move and start all over again. There have been 10 other blowouts on the North Slope. The last one was in 1994.

Egan’s Retirement Choice Bill on the Move

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

A state Senate panel has advanced a bill giving Alaska’s public employees a choice of retirement systems.

Senate Bill 121 lets state and municipal workers choose either a defined benefit plan – also known as a traditional pension – or a defined contribution plan, like a 401(k) retirement savings account.

During the Murkowski administration the legislature did away with the state’s defined benefit program for all new hires since July 2006. The Parnell administration opposes the current bill.

New Attorney General Plans to ‘Fight the Good Fight’

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

Newly appointed  Attorney General Michael Geraghty made his first appearance before legislators Thursday to talk about the budget,  pending litigation – and what he calls the state’s “proactive” role in state’s rights litigation.

ConocoPhillips: Current Taxes Cut Long-Term Plans

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

Discussing the state’s current oil tax regime — called Aces — Conoco-Philips Vice President Scott Jepson told the Senate Resources Committee, “Basically, Aces puts a haircut on your long-term profitability.”

Anaktuvuk Pass Residents Lobby Against Road to Umiat

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Residents from Anaktuvuk Pass are in Juneau this week to lobby against a proposed road to Umiat, an area with oil and gas potential. The state wants to build the road as part of its “Roads to Resources” program. But community members say it would disrupt the caribou herds they depend on for subsistence.

A-CAP Report Says Climate Change Predictions Proving True

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Climate change predictions are coming true.  That’s the finding in an updated report from the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy or “A-CAP.”  The recently released draft report includes input from a variety of stakeholders.  It’s one of eight being produced regionally across the country for a National Climate Assessment, as required every five years by federal law.   A-CAP Director Sarah Trainor says the updated Alaska report shows predicted changes coming to fruition across the state.

A-CAP is taking comments of the Alaska chapter for the 2013 National Climate Assessment.  The national report also evaluates effectiveness of climate change mitigation adaptation strategies.

Last-Place Musher Will Be Allowed to Finish Yukon Quest

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The final teams in the Yukon Quest continue to make their way into Whitehorse, but there are still two at Pelly Crossing, more than 250 trail miles from the finish line.   After Chukotka musher Michael Telpin’s GPS location device stopped working Tuesday, Quest officials sent a snow machine team to find him on the trail.  They located him at the Stepping Stone hospitality stop this afternoon.  Officials say he and his team were in good spirits.   They have decided to allow the Russian rookie to continue his race. Sue Thomas is the Executive Director of the Yukon Quest in Whitehorse.

Michael Telpin is a renowned musher in Russia.  However, he runs dogs mainly along the coastline and on tundra.  He had reservations about running his dogs in the dark and was concerned that he might become disoriented running amongst trees at night.  Marcelle Fressineau, a French Canadian, is running right in front of Telpin.  According to the official rules, the first and last team must run within 60 hours of each other.  But Thomas says officials decided to allow the two to continue the race, unsupported from Dawson City.

Remaining Mushers Making Most of Quest Experience

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The back of the packers may not be as competitive as the frontrunners, but as KUAC’s Emily Schwing reports, they’re making the most of their Yukon Quest experience.

National Guard Save Man in Red Devil

Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

A young man in the small Kuskowim River village of Red Devil was saved after two National Guardsmen parachuted through a storm at night to give him medical attention.