KTVA: BLM announces major cleanup of ‘legacy wells’

ANCHORAGE – The federal government has already spent more than $100 million cleaning up abandoned wells in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, but now there’s a new push to finally get the job done, and project managers with the Bureau of Land Management say it’s time to spend even more.

The legacy wells sit 200 miles above the Arctic Circle. There are 136 of them, drilled between 1944 and 1982 by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Geological Survey to determine what resources are in the area. The problem is most of the wells were abandoned decades ago without any cleanup at all.

The BLM inherited the responsibility. Starting in 2002, crews began work on 21 well sites at a cost of $99 million for the federal government.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski secured an additional $50 million for the BLM through the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 to use towards cleanup efforts of the legacy wells.

“The Helium Act funding will allow us to clean up a significant number of the legacy wells to protect the public and the environment,” said BLM Alaska State Director Bud Cribley. “Remediation of the remaining wells will require tremendous additional resources over the coming years, but we are committed to doing our part to finish the job.”

On Wednesday, the BLM announced that money would be spent cleaning up 21 more wells near Barrow and Simpson Peninsula.

Legacy wells project coordinator Nicole Hayes said because of their remote locations, each well site will cost between $3 million and $5 million.

“The work that’s being done will consist of plugging and abandoning the wells, picking up surface debris, and then going back this summer to do all of the site sampling,” Hayes said.

The BLM is continuing to work with the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and other stakeholders to prioritize which wells to clean up first, based on risks to human health and the environment.

“One that’s going to be plugged this year has been leaking hydrocarbon gas into the environment for years,” said AOGCC chair Cathy Foerster said. “Some have all kinds of surface debris including old drilling mud that’s probably caused ground contamination.”

By the end of this summer, the BLM is expected to have spent $150 million on the legacy well project. Even then nearly 30 more wells will need attention.

The BLM is working to get further funding. Hayes estimates it would cost an additional $100 million to complete the project entirely.

Link to the original article: http://www.ktva.com/blm-announces-major-cleanup-of-legacy-wells-712/

By:  By Shannon Ballard
Source: BLM announces major cleanup of ‘legacy wells’