Crews Set to Begin Thawing Out Rig Over Blown Out Test Well

The North Slope exploratory well that experienced a blow out on Wednesday appears to have stopped flowing. Spanish oil company Repsol’s well hit a shallow natural gas patch that kicked mud, gas and water back up through the drill rig. Repsol shut the rig down and evacuated the area. Alaska Oil and Gas conservation Commission Engineering commissioner Cathy Foerster says the well ceased flowing at 11 p.m. last night. She says Repsol and Wild Well Control, the company hired to get the well contained are now setting up to begin the process of thawing the drill rig. Foester says the rig system is filled with fluids and because it’s been shut down for more than two days, those fluids are frozen.

“And we have serious concerns about the mechanical integrity of all of the systems on the rig that have been holding frozen fluids. So before that rig is re-commissioned to work, we’re going to have to do all kinds of checks on the integrity of every bit of that system.”

Foerster says Repsol and Wild Well Control are building scaffolding to set up equipment for the thawing process. She says the thaw plan is complicated by dropping temperatures. From 8 above yesterday to 18 below today. Foerster says the immediate focus is insuring the well is completely killed and not just temporarily blocked by mud or ice.

“You know we’re not going to assume that the well has depleted because if we assume that we’re setting ourselves up for injuries and more problems because it could just be bridged off or an ice plug plugging it off, so we have to assume the worst and they’re going to kill the well first. Even if it’s already dead, they’re going to kill it again so that’s the first step.”

No workers were injured or oil spilled at the well near the mouth of the Colville River. The Department of Environmental Conservation estimates about 42,000 gallons of drilling mud were released on the gravel pad and snow-covered tundra.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for Alaska Public Media. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for nearly 30 years. Radio brought her to Alaska, where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting before accepting a reporting/host position with APRN in 2003. APRN merged with Alaska Public Media a year later. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. 

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