Murkowski Presses Interior on Mismanaged Efforts to Clean-up NPR-A Legacy Wells

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell asking for more information surrounding mistakes reportedly made by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the cleanup of legacy wells in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). In her letter, Murkowski cites specific incidents where BLM’s actions and lax oversight have threatened human safety and further environmental damage.

“I have received reports that BLM has not been requiring its contractors to follow industry standards, state and federal regulations, or approved procedures during the remediation process. This appears to have led to an incident with serious safety and environmental implications that could also have financial repercussions for the scope of future cleanup work,” Murkowski stated in the letter. “Instead of remediating these abandoned wells once and for all, we appear to be witnessing an inexcusable repeat of the sad history of the federal government’s lack of stewardship in the NPR-A.”

Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, points to two specific examples – Simpson Well 26 and Iko Bay Well 1 – where missteps by BLM and its contractors have made the cleanup process more difficult and more costly. She concludes the letter by calling on the Interior Department and BLM to use Alaska as a source of expertise in advancing the remediation of legacy wells in the NPR-A.

“Given the incidents that have reportedly occurred, I also encourage the Department to make greater use of industry and regulatory professionals in Alaska in its cleanup efforts. Their expertise and dedication will help ensure that taxpayer dollars are not wasted and that Alaska’s lands and wildlife are protected as soon as possible,” Murkowski wrote.

Murkowski has repeatedly called on the federal government to clean-up dozens of exploration wells that were drilled at the direction of the federal government and abandoned in the NPR-A between 1944 and 1982. In 2013, Murkowski secured $50 million as part of the Helium Stewardship Act (PL 113-40) to accelerate the cleanup of these environmentally devastating and physically dangerous wells.