A state House resolution calls for the federal government to properly plug and reclaim the sites of so-called legacy wells within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Between 1944 and 1981 the U.S. government drilled approximately 140 wells on the reserve as part of an exploratory oil and gas program. According to HJR29 and testimony, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees the abandoned wells. Records show just seven wells have been properly plugged and reclaimed. And others are out of compliance with Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulations or can no longer be located.
Charisse Millett, (R) Rep. Anchorage, the resolution's primary sponsor, said the wells threaten the Arctic ecosystem, she told the House Resources Committee this week that the state can't demand the federal government to do anything, nor can we impose fines on the federal government, hence the resolution. Nearly the entire Alaska House has signed on in support of the measure.
Ted Murphy, BLM-Alaska Deputy State Director testified that the agency in Alaska gets just $1 million for legacy wells. Both Murphy and Cathy Foerster, a commissioner with the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said collaboration is imperative for moving forward.
Foerster didn't hold back in her frustration, pointing out the hypocrisy of the federal government in wanting to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge while abandoning a mess at the National Petroleum Reserve. She showed pictures of rusting barrels that were taken by BLM. Foerster said BLM claims to have an no money in the budget to clean up the barrels, but they (BLM) had the money for the helicopter to go out to photograph the barrels and for BLM to write a report.
A BLM official replied that the agency, at "enormous expense," had plugged 13 legacy wells over seven years and other wells were believed to pose no risk. Where is the nearly $9.5 billion dollars from oil and gas lease sales in NPR-A and Alaska’s outer continental shelf that the BLM has received, asked Charisse Millett, (R) Rep..
For more than 3 decades the federal Bureau of Land Management has blatantly ignored its responsibility to clean up approximately 130 abandoned exploratory oil and gas wells (legacy wells) drilled by the federal government in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska. Charisse Millett, (R) Rep. Anchorage said “If a private company left this mess behind it would be slapped with fines in the billions of dollars and demonized by media outlets and environmental organizations.” This is really a disgrace. It is outrageous that we allow our own government to pollute Alaska.
Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission reports only seven wells have been property plugged and cleaned up. The remaining 120+ sites are littered with scrap metal, wood, rotting buildings and rusting barrels. The unplugged wells also threaten to contaminate ground water and present a hazard to animals and people walking. And there are 3 wells that can’t even be located.