BLM Proposal For State To Pay For Legacy Well Clean-Up, “Dead On Arrival”
May 09, 2013
“After repeated requests, the BLM has finally released a plan to address the ongoing environmental pollution occurring within the NPR-A. That’s a step in the right direction, but I’m concerned that the agency appears to have unilaterally decided that more than half of the wells don’t require remediation. That’s not the federal government’s decision to make – that’s up to the state of Alaska,” Murkowski said.
From 1944 to 1981, the federal government drilled 136 exploratory wells in the NPR-A, and then abandoned them. Quoting a news release from U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), only 16 of the 136 wells have been properly plugged, and seven of those were taken care of by the North Slope Borough, not by BLM, which is responsible for the wells. The remaining 120 wells are in various conditions of non-compliance with state law. The drill sites, many of which are contaminated by wood, metal, plastic, glass and concrete debris are also littered with rusting barrels once filled with contaminants.
“Let me be clear, these wells were drilled by the federal government, so the cleanup is solely the responsibility of the federal government,” Murkowski said. “I expect the federal government to live up to the same high environmental standards that it holds private oil companies to – Alaskans won’t tolerate a double standard.”
Wednesday, Murkowski called a proposal to make Alaska pay for the cleanup of the federal wells “dead on arrival.” She reminded federal officials that the federal government has earned $9.4 billion from oil and natural gas leasing in Alaska, while the legacy wells have remained an issue.
“While BLM argues it lacks the money to adequately address its responsibilities in Alaska, it continues to seek increased funding for other priorities,” Murkowski said. “My priority is seeing that the federal government fulfills its obligations to Alaska first.”
Murkowski vowed to continue to work with BLM to address the legacy wells and other Alaska priorities, in her role as the ranking member of both the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
U.S. Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) reinforced his stance also that he will not tolerate Bureau of Land Management plans to use Alaska state revenues to pay for National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPR-A) legacy well clean-up as proposed in President Obama’s current budget plan.
“There is no way that Alaska is picking up the bill for the NPR-A legacy wells,” said Begich after meeting with Bud Cribley, BLM’s Alaska region director. "To me, this budget proposal cooked up in Washington is just a gimmick and I told them as much.”
Wednesday’s meeting, which included other top BLM officials from Alaska, was scheduled as an opportunity for BLM to brief Sen. Begich on their new plan to address the issue of legacy wells—exploratory wells drilled by the federal government which were left unplugged or partially plugged.
Drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) by private sector companies was also a main topic of discussion. Begich pressed BLM to create the NPR-A working group as soon as possible. The working group entity was announced when BLM released their NPR-A Plan earlier this year and is intended to ensure that the people of the region have a voice the development of the NPR-A.
“It is critical to get regional input on the plan so that BLM can develop a more aggressive leasing program,” said Begich. “Along with many Alaska Native leaders on the North Slope, I strongly disagreed with the NPR-A plan released earlier this year because it restricted some of the best areas for oil and gas development.”
The BLM draft plan identifies 50 sites that still require remediation, and places a priority on just 16 wells for cleanup work. Since 1982, according to the BLM, the agency has spent tens of millions of dollars cataloging and remediating these “legacy wells.” Some wells are still being used for scientific research, so at this point only 50 wells – fewer than half of the original number – currently require additional remediation work.
Edited by Mary Kauffman
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