BLM: No serious leaks at petroleum reserve wells

Posted: Monday, September 30, 2002

FAIRBANKS - The Bureau of Land Management did not find anything alarming over the summer after it finished its first look at 37 years worth of abandoned wells and drill sites in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

BLM staff visited 30 of the 130 to 141 sites to determine how to bring them into compliance with rules governing abandoned petroleum exploration sites.

State officials feared the wells would leak crude or gas if they were not capped properly.

The sites and wells are left over from federal exploration that began in the 1940s and continued to the 1980s on 23 million North Slope acres.

"We want to close the issue," said Bob Fisk, BLM lead staffer on the wells.

The abandoned sites became a BLM concern in 1976 when Congress transferred jurisdiction from the Navy to the Department of Interior and changed the reserve's name from Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4.

BLM had not done anything with the wells and drill sites since then, but environmental laws have changed, requiring all wells and drill holes be closed in a certain manner if work is concluded.

Last year one well in Cape Simpson leaked 30 to 50 gallons of crude. State environmental officials said the incident showed the wells were not being maintained and that other NPR-A wells could be in similar conditions.

BLM countered that there was never any real damage because the leaking well was in a place where crude oil seeps to the surface naturally. But the bureau started a three-year program to visit each well or drill site, match their findings with old drilling records and come up with a plan, Fisk said.

BLM staff had difficulty finding drill sites this summer. Some collapsed and were either not visible or appeared only as small depressions, Fisk said.

None of the sites BLM investigated were leaking, he said.

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