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 the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. 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. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. 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. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori