Crews Continue to Respond to Exploratory Well Blow Out

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.

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Annie Feidt is the Editor and Producer of Alaska News Nightly, and is also a frequent contributor to the show. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49thstate just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie