EPA’s initial stages of establishing a unified command on the frozen North Slope of Alaska. Image: EPA, April 15, 2017.

British Petroleum’s (BP) oil and gas well on Alaska’s Northern Slope (formally the BPXA Flow Station 1 Drill Site 2 Well 3 Release) that blew out on Friday continues to spill petroleum.  The remoteness of the site translates into essentially all the info coming from BP (or via state authorities who are in turn passing along BP’s information releases). As of Sunday, BP was reporting there have been no injuries or conspicuous damage to wildlife. Crews trying to secure the well have failed amid freezing winds gusting to 61 kph (38 mph).  As so often happens in these situation where we have little detailed info, largely useless facts (such a windspeed) get amplified throughout the media covering the story and repeated verbatim across numerous news outlets.  That is the station with this blowout at the moment.

Wellhead pressure was monitored throughout the night and appears to have necessitated some bleed off of riding pressure to avoid further damage to the casing.  As of Monday morning we have zero estimates as to the amount of natural gas and oil released to date.  This is quite curious as the crews must have at least a very vague estimate.  Again, the lack of information is concerning and the default situation with most spills of this nature in recent years.
The well is about five miles from the Deadhorse airport, a remote logistics town servicing the production efforts to produce the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.  These fields are the largest ever discovered in the United States. Production began there 40 years ago, but while we have oil the massive TransAlaska Oil Pipeline, we have no natural gas pipeline to bring recovered natural gas south out of the Alaska.  As such drilling companies often re-inject recovered natural gas into wellbores to boost pressure and aid in recovery of oil (a so-alled enhanced recovery technique).
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) reported this weekend that the crude spray plume appeared largely confined to the the gravel pad where the rig is located according to aerial imagery from airplane reconnaissance.
ADEC’s information system is poor.  As of Monday, the only info available was:

BPXA Flow Station 1 Drill Site 2 Well 3 Release

LocationBPXA Drill Site 2 (DS2) pad, Well 3 in the Greater Prudhoe Bay area approximately 5 miles from the Deadhorse Airport (Lat/Long: 70.268653, -148.78641).
Product/QuantityThe well is currently venting gas, which caused an initial spray of crude oil that impacted the well pad. However it is not currently spraying crude oil. A Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) overflight shows that the crude spray plume did not leave the pad, however, the situation is not safe yet for responders to access the area and confirm that there have been no impacts to adjacent tundra. No volume estimate for crude spray released is available at this time.
CauseThe cause of the release is unknown at this time. ADEC is coordinating with BPXA and the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC) to investigate the cause of the release. Well 3 is an oil and gas production well.
Initiation of SpillUnknown
The above pdf was retrieved from this site, Monday April 17.
Perhaps most concerning, Reuters reported the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) stated that while the crude flow has apparently been staunched as of Sunday, natural gas continues to flare (and may possibly be worsening).  Again, reports are unclear but releases continuing as of Monday seem to be attributed to a secondary leak (although no explanation was provided if this was a secondary fracture of the same drill bore or if this is from a sister wellhead/bore housed within the same drill pad facility).
Washington Post quoted Brett Clanton, a BP spokesman in Houston saying that BP is in the process of shutting in a well at the Prudhoe Bay oil field that experienced an “unplanned release” (what you and I would call an oil spill or–more correctly in this condition–a blowout) of hydrocarbon.
Reuters nicely and briefly summarize the context to this BP situation as:

BP has dealt with several spills and leaks in Alaska in the past. In 2006, a corroded pipeline released nearly 5,000 barrels of crude oil, the largest oil spill in the North Slope at the time. Another spill occurred in 2009 that saw just over 1,000 barrels leak.

In 2010, a BP-operated drilling rig called Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 people and spilling nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, making it the largest oil spill in U.S. federal waters. BP eventually agreed to pay $18.7 billion to settle all federal and state claims related to the spill.

To this soundbite contextualization, I would simple suggest that everyone remember that BP Alaska was the home to the “run to failure” policies that would later spread across much of BP’s corporate activities and which was a primary contributor the to situation that produced 2010’s Deepwater Horizon Blowout, the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history.

Wellhead blowout facility map. Source: EPA/Incident Command.

BP File Photo of workers on North Slope is much warmer, logistically appealing environmental conditions. This is NOT what it looks like up there at this point. Image: BP.

Update, Monday, April 17 at 5:00 PDT:
We have bit more inform from the Incident Command describing the situation:
 A Forward Looking Infrared or FLIR overflight shows that the crude spray plume did not leave the pad, however, the situation is not safe yet for responders to access the area and confirm that there have been no impacts to adjacent tundra. No volume estimate for crude spray released is available at this time. Two leaks have been identified on 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, but the activation of the surface safety valve has stopped the release from this point. The bottom leak is currently leaking gas as well as some minor amount of crude oil. The well structure is housed in a metal “well house” which is helping to contain any oil spray.
Update, Tuesday, April 18 at 4:00 PDT:
NPR is now reporting the good news that the wellhead is under control again:

On Monday, nearly three days after the leak was found, ADEC announced the unified command had to managed to “kill” the well overnight and end the gas leak.

“The area impacted is limited to gravel,” says Candice Bressler, spokesperson for ADEC. “There have been no reports of impacted wildlife.” Oil droplets were found on about 1.5 acres of the well’s drill pad, according to The Associated Press.

The community of Nuiqsut, 50 miles west of the site, had been notified of the incident, but was not evacuated.

“Responders determined that the well had ‘jacked up,’ or risen, approximately 3 – 4 feet; this vertical movement of the well caused the pressure gauge to break off and prevented operations from pumping into the well to kill it,” ADEC reported.

BP began drilling at the massive Prudhoe Bay oil field in 1968. It has generated more than 12 billion barrels of oil, according to BP, and remains one of North America’s largest oil fields.

The leak happened amid efforts to boost output from aging wells and reach new supplies in the North Slope’s oil fields, reports Bloomberg:

“North Slope production rose to 565,000 barrels a day in March, its highest level since December 2013. That’s still down by almost three-quarters from the peak of more than 2 million barrels in the late 1980s.”

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