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Anchorage Daily News: BP shuts down 12 slope wells for tests

Richard Richtmyer
Anchorage Daily News

BP is shutting down a dozen North Slope oil wells after whistle-blowers alleged that 50 were leaking.

The wells together produce roughly 8,000 barrels of the Slope’s more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day, said Daren Beaudo, a BP spokesman in Anchorage.

The wells are being shut down “in an abundance of caution,” and are likely to be producing again within a matter of days, he said.

“Even though we have no reason to believe that continued operation causes a danger to workers or the environment, we’re going to reconfirm their integrity,” Beaudo said.

At issue is a series of wells that could leak an insulating material — either crude oil or diesel — that is contained in an outer ring of the pipe that sucks the oil out of the ground.

Sometimes that material can leak out into the well cellars, boxes carved about 20 feet deep into the permafrost beneath the rig.

Chuck Hamel, a former shipping broker from Virginia who frequently publicizes information from whistle-blowing employees in Alaska’s oil industry, in letters to state regulators this summer alleged that 50 wells were leaking and that some of the material had spilled onto the tundra.

“I’m just passing on the word of the employees,” Hamel said.

Surface casing leaks identified

Beaudo insisted that none of the insulating material had gotten onto the tundra. He said BP did identify 57 wells — out of more than 2,200 on the slope — that might have surface casing leaks that could cause some of the insulating material to drip into the well cellar.
All but 12 had already been shut down, and BP plans to run integrity tests on those under the eye of state environmental and oil conservation regulators, Beaudo said.

They’ll go back into service if they pass muster. “We’re talking days, but I don’t know how many days,” he said.

Ten of the wells being shut down are in Prudhoe Bay, the slope’s biggest oil field, while the other two are at Northstar and Milne Point fields, Beaudo said.

John Manly, a spokesman for Gov. Frank Murkowski, said BP is shutting down and testing the wells on its own accord. State officials are satisfied that the wells in question are in compliance with state regulations.

“We don’t see a problem with them,” Manly said.

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