A BP oil and gas production well in Alaska’s North Slope blew out Friday morning, and on Saturday afternoon, the well was still not under control as responders fought freezing temperatures and winds gusting up to 38 mph.
Efforts to get the well under control were also being hampered by damage to a well pressure gauge and by indications that the well itself has “jacked up,” or risen three to four feet, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said in a situation report Saturday afternoon.
BP, whose Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico blew out and caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history, has responded to questions about the well, but information was limited and there was no estimate about volumes of natural gas and oil released.
The well was venting natural gas and sending a “spray” of crude oil into the air Saturday. BP has reported to regulators that the crude spray has landed on the drilling pad but it remains unsafe to approach the well and determine whether the crude spray has affected tundra in the area. An overflight with infrared capabilities indicated that the spray plume did not spread beyond the drilling pad, according to the Alaska DEC.
The ADEC also said that two leaks have been identified at the well, one near the top and one further down the well assembly.
“The top leak was misting oil in conjunction with releasing natural gas,” the department said, but “the activation of the surface safety valve has stopped the release from that point. The bottom leak has been reduced, but is currently leaking gas as well as some minor amount of crude oil.”
“BP is in the process of shutting in a well at the Prudhoe Bay oil field that experienced an unplanned release of hydrocarbon,” said Brett Clanton, a BP spokesman in Houston.
“No people were in the vicinity of the well at the time of the release and there are no injuries,” he added. “Crews have secured the site, the fire department is on the scene and crew members are now working to safely shut in the well. All necessary notifications have been made to state and federal regulators.”
The well is about five miles from the airport at Deadhorse, a remote town in northern Alaska that has been the service center for tapping the Prudhoe Bay oil field, the largest ever discovered in the United States. Production began there 40 years ago.
In general, oil companies have been producing oil and pumping associated natural gas back into reservoirs. That helps enhance oil recovery but it is also because there is no pipeline to carry natural gas to markets.