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Responders wrest control of leaking BP oil and gas well in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay area

An oil well misting natural gas on Alaska’s frozen North Slope. Workers from the Alaska Department of Conservation and the Environmental Protection Agency on Saturday were able to connect hoses to valves and reduce pressure in the well, according to the conservation department. (Environmental Protection Agency via AP)

Responders from the oil service company Boots and Coots were able to get control of a BP oil and gas well that had been leaking since Friday morning in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay area.

A situation report from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said that a Boots and Coots team was able to plug damaged pipe and then offset high well pressures by pumping in a salt water solution into the well. That “killed” the well which had been venting natural gas into the air for nearly three days.

The Alaska DEC said that responders to the emergency must still fix a mechanical plug in a damaged portion of the underground pipe before the well can be considered completely stable.

The leak was discovered Friday morning, with natural gas spewing out of the well and a “spray” of crude oil landing on the snow-covered drilling-well pad. The oil spray ended Saturday, but the well remained out of control and vented gas through the weekend.

The public image of BP is still recovering from the 2010 explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 people and affected beaches and wetlands.

It isn’t clear what caused the leak in the oil and natural-gas production well, about five miles from the airport for Deadhorse, a town devoted to servicing the giant Prudhoe Bay oil fields, which began producing 40 years ago. Because there is no pipeline for natural gas from Prudhoe Bay, companies inject the gas back into the wells after the oil is pumped out.

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An earlier report by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said pressure in the well had caused the well assembly and equipment to “jack up,” or rise, three to four feet, hampering efforts to shut off the gas leak.

On Saturday night, responders from BP, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Alaska DEC were able to connect hoses to valves and bleed pressure from the space surrounding the well’s underground steel pipe.

The responders were working in tough conditions, with subfreezing temperatures and gusty winds.

The BP leak comes on the heels of pipeline leaks in Alaska’s Cook Inlet off Anchorage. Hilcorp Alaska has discovered several oil and natural-gas leaks in pipelines, but ice made had it impossible to repair the leaks. On April 7, Hilcorp announced that it would cut off the flow of natural gas in the most recent leak and fill the line with filtered seawater.