Across the North Slope, there are over a hundred oil wells drilled by the federal government that are no longer operational. At some sites, there are abandoned drums sunk in oil seeps; other wells have gas leaking from them. On Wednesday, the Bureau of Land Management released a draft plan identifying 50 of these so-called “legacy wells” for clean up.
Bud Cribley directs the BLM’s Alaska office. He says the plan is to start with the 16 wells in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that pose the greatest risk to human and environmental health.
“It’s going to take time, but we are committed to accomplishing that clean-up.”
Cribley says that the timeline and the budget for the well clean-up are still being figured out, and that sequestration may affect the pace. Still, it’s possible that work on wells near Barrow could start as early as next year.
Of the remaining NPR-A wells, BLM has determined that 68 do not pose any risk to humans or the environment and that 18 are still in use.
Environmental groups like the Wilderness Society described the draft plan as a positive step forward, but a number of Alaska lawmakers say it doesn’t go far enough. Rep. Charisse Millette, a Republican from Anchorage, says she’s happy that the federal government wants to clean up some of the wells but that more should be targeted. She also has concerns about a recent proposal to use some of the revenue-sharing payments that Alaska gets for NPR-A oil to help pay for remediation.
“The BLM has not really come out with anything other than what they’ve been doing, patting the state on the head and then pulling our revenues away from us.”
Alaska’s congressional delegation also opposes the idea of making Alaska pay for remediation, since the wells were drilled by the federal government on federal land. Sen. Lisa Murkowski describing such a plan as “dead on arrival.”
The clean-up plan is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks, after key stakeholders get a chance to comment.