The Spanish oil company, Repsol, had an exploratory well blowout Wednesday morning on Alaska’s remote North Slope, spewing natural gas into the frigid Arctic air for several hours and blasting more than 40,000 gallons of toxic drilling mud out through a diverter pipe. The good news is none of the 76 workers were injured. The bad news is it was a well blowout (not to overlook the obvious), and it resulted in an uncontrolled release of pollutants into the environment, and it happened in such a remote area that it took the so-called “well control” team nearly 24 hours to reach the site.
From a Feb. 16 Anchorage Daily News report by Richard Mauer:
The well spewed gas for hours Wednesday, but by about 5:45 p.m. the gas had stopped flowing on its own, indicating it was probably from a small pocket, said Dan Seamount, chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The well was still producing water and remained out of control, he said.
A well-control contractor mobilized from a field office in Anchorage and its headquarters in Texas and was expected to be on site by early [Thursday], Seamount said.
The Arctic blowout should prod us into confronting two nagging realities: (1) the mass proliferation of domestic drilling operations, whether oil or natural gas, presents a new level of risk; and (2) the remoteness and inaccessibility of a growing number of those operations make mobilizing an effective response to a spill impossible for all practical purposes. For Repsol, the timing of the blowout is particularly bad (not that there’s a good time for this sort of thing), having just last year announced that it was embarking on an “aggressive exploration program.” By all accounts, Repsol has been aggressive indeed, leaving environmentalists, elected officials and segments of the general public concerned that company resources may be spread too thin. More from the ADN report:
The Madrid-based company, a big player in the international oil business, only recently came to Alaska. Its announcement last year that it would begin an aggressive exploration program this winter was cheered by state officials and legislators interested in diversifying Alaska’s North Slope industry and in boosting total production.
But Pamela Miller of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center said it was sobering to note that Repsol had more than 100 offshore leases in the Chukchi Sea, making it second only to Shell. Environmentalists have expressed concern about the effects of a well blowout in the Arctic Ocean, where spilled oil would be difficult to contain.
It’s a ticking time bomb up in Alaska. The North Slope blowout is a grim reminder of that fact. Warnings that we are completely unprepared and unable to effectively respond to a spill in the Arctic have come from virtually every quarter, from emergency response experts to members of Congress to our own U.S. Coast Guard.
Remember the name Repsol, you’ll be hearing it more frequently – I certainly hope in a more favorable context. I also hope (it’s up to the government to ensure) that Repsol’s aggressive exploration program is matched by an aggressive safety program and an aggressive spill response program.
Did I mention that Repsol is drilling deep-water exploratory wells off Cuban in the Gulf of Mexico – not far from the white-sand beaches of Miami?
Read the ADN report here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/02/16/139048/oil-well-in-alaskas-north-slope.html
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