BLM continues work on cleaning debris from North Slope oil drilling

The Bureau of Land Management continues to work on cleaning up the debris from decades-old experimental oil drills on Alaska’s North Slope.

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BLM had set an ambitious agenda for work this past winter, but only completed clean up for 10 wells. They planned on 14. BLM’s Legacy Wells Project Coordinator Nicole Hayes said Friday that the highest priority wells are located at Umiat, Barrow and Cape Simpson.

“The reason why these were identified as the highest priority wells were basically the risk to the environment,” Hayes said. “The surface and subsurface risk, as well as our opportunity to identify and work on clusters of wells at a time.”

BLM received $50 million in 2013 from the federal Helium Act to clean up the wells. Hayes says this winter, 6 wells were successfully plugged and abandoned and 4 wellheads were removed at the Cape Simpson cluster. But an attempt to clean up one of four wells tapped for remediation in Barrow was not successful.

Hayes says BLM is working with the state and contractors to make a plan to successfully plug the Barrow wells next winter.

Marsh Creek and Olgonik are the two contractors doing the work.

In May, Senator Lisa Murkowski sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel asking for information about the cleanup. Murkowski chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and mentioned reports of safety violations and missteps during the cleanup work. Hayes said she had not received any specific concerns from Barrow residents concerning the cleanup.

In April, the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission sent the agency notice that it had violated state regulations in some of its work on the legacy wells.

Hayes says there are still $15 million to cover work on about 3 more wells, and the BLM is working with AOGCC on the cleanup. AOGCC chair Cathy Foerster was not available for comment Friday.