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After BP leak report, state calls for review of all Alaska North Slope wells

31 October 2017

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (ADEC) is ordering all wells on the North Slope that have a similar design to a BP well that failed to be shut in immediately and reported to the state. The emergency order comes after BP blamed an April oil spill and gas leak on a well casing that buckled under pressure from thawing permafrost. 

The affected BP wellhead - Image: ADEC
The affected BP wellhead - Image: ADEC

State regulators have called for a review of thousands of oil wells on the North Slope by the end of this year to see how many are similar to the failed BP well and what action needs to be taken to prevent a re-occurrence of the incident, which saw the well spew oil and gas for several days before it could be plugged.

ADEC, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the North Slope Borough and BP Exploration Alaska has established a committee to respond to the discharge near Prudhoe Bay.

According to the KTOO website, ADEC board member Cathy Foerster said she was disappointed by BP’s decision not to share information from its internal review into the incident with all other North Slope operators. Where problems were identified, operators would have to remediate them, she said.

Foerster said the ADEC review would establish how many wells on the North Slope have a similar design, but expected newer fields not to suffer the same problems.

She said the permafrost around the wells is not thawing because of climate change but from the heat from the oil and gas and other fluids being pumped from thousands of feet underground to the frozen surface.

Earlier, local media reported that BP was likely to plug and abandon 13 wells on the North Slope following the incident earlier this year.

BP’s report concluded the incident was caused by thawing permafrost deep below the surface, which put uneven stress on the well. Eventually, the well gave out, rising several feet out of the ground and colliding with the top of the well house, leading to the uncontrolled leak.

This was not BP’s only accident this year. Last week, Buzzfeed News released documents showing the company forced many employees to halt work for 12 days this month following a series of safety incidents.

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