On Friday, employees of BP Exploration Alaska discovered an uncontrolled gas leak in an oil and gas well on Alaska’s North Slope, near the community of Deadhorse. Soon after, they determined that the well was also spraying a mist of crude oil.
BP reported the leak and formed a “unified command,” which included responders from Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the North Slope Borough.
The well vented gas throughout the weekend. By Sunday, the crude was no longer spraying, and workers were able to activate a safety valve that reduced the pressure of the gas.
On Monday, nearly three days after the leak was found, ADEC announced the unified command had to managed to “kill” the well overnight and end the gas leak.
“The area impacted is limited to gravel,” says Candice Bressler, spokesperson for ADEC. “There have been no reports of impacted wildlife.” Oil droplets were found on about 1.5 acres of the well’s drill pad, according to The Associated Press.
The community of Nuiqsut, 50 miles west of the site, had been notified of the incident, but was not evacuated.
“Responders determined that the well had ‘jacked up,’ or risen, approximately 3 – 4 feet; this vertical movement of the well caused the pressure gauge to break off and prevented operations from pumping into the well to kill it,” ADEC reported.
BP began drilling at the massive Prudhoe Bay oil field in 1968. It has generated more than 12 billion barrels of oil, according to BP, and remains one of North America’s largest oil fields.
The leak happened amid efforts to boost output from aging wells and reach new supplies in the North Slope’s oil fields, reports Bloomberg:
“North Slope production rose to 565,000 barrels a day in March, its highest level since December 2013. That’s still down by almost three-quarters from the peak of more than 2 million barrels in the late 1980s.”
In a 2011 settlement with the Department of Justice, BP agreed to pay a $25 million civil penalty and carry out a “system-wide integrity management program” after it spilled more than 5,000 barrels of crude oil from its pipelines on Alaska’s North Slope in 2006. Five years later, BP agreed to pay more than $20 billion in penalties for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
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