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Oil well leaking out of control on Arctic Alaska North Slope

Oil well leaking out of control on Arctic Alaska North Slope thumbnail

By Steven Mufson, The Washington Post

A BP oil and gas production well in Alaska’s North Slope blew out Friday morning, and on Saturday afternoon, the well was still not under control as responders fought subfreezing temperatures and winds gusting up to 38 mph.

Efforts to get the well under control were also being hampered by damage to a well pressure gauge and by indications that the well itself has “jacked up,” or risen three to four feet, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said in a situation report Saturday afternoon.

BP, whose Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico blew out and caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history, has responded to questions about the well, but information was limited and there was no estimate about volumes of natural gas and oil released.

The well was venting natural gas and sending a “spray” of crude oil into the air Saturday. BP has reported to regulators that the crude spray has landed on the drilling pad but it remains unsafe to approach the well and determine whether the crude spray has affected tundra in the area. An overflight with infrared capabilities indicated that the spray plume did not spread beyond the drilling pad, according to the Alaska DEC.

The ADEC also said that two leaks have been identified at 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,” the department said, but “the activation of the surface safety valve has stopped the release from that point. The bottom leak has been reduced, but is currently leaking gas as well as some minor amount of crude oil.”

“BP is in the process of shutting in a well at the Prudhoe Bay oil field that experienced an unplanned release of hydrocarbon,” said Brett Clanton, a BP spokesman in Houston.

“No people were in the vicinity of the well at the time of the release and there are no injuries,” he added. “Crews have secured the site, the fire department is on the scene and crew members are now working to safely shut in the well. All necessary notifications have been made to state and federal regulators.”

The well is about five miles from the airport at Deadhorse, a remote town in northern Alaska that has been the service center for tapping the Prudhoe Bay oil field, the largest ever discovered in the United States. Production began there 40 years ago.

In general, oil companies have been producing oil and pumping associated natural gas back into reservoirs. That helps enhance oil recovery but it is also because there is no pipeline to carry natural gas to markets.


27 Comments on "Oil well leaking out of control on Arctic Alaska North Slope"

  1. paulo1 on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 10:02 am 

    Make America Great Again.

    Drill Baby Drill.

    No an ignoramous is running the country giving license for new and unfettered drilling, PLUS, a visible attack on EPA and oversight regulations.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  2. shortonoil on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 10:02 am 

    “were also being hampered by damage to a well pressure gauge and by indications that the well itself has “jacked up,” or risen three to four feet,”

    BP over pressurized the well until something broke. Got to get that very last barrel out no matter what! It makes one wonder what relationship this company has to the Black Plaque?

  3. shortonoil on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 10:08 am 

    “What could possibly go wrong?”

    No one shows up to buy the oil!

  4. Midnight Oil on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 10:42 am 

    BP STRIKES OUT again…great going guys.
    But it’s all good, right ROCKMAN?

  5. BobInget on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 11:04 am 

    BP needs to change its corporate culture.
    If BP loses the three pints of yogurt at the canteen,
    the company will be out of culture altogether.

    Thanks to global warming and storage our Alaskan pipeline will keep operatring without this single well blowout. A shut down in winter could turn the entire
    line into a stuffed, frozen salami.

  6. Hawkcreek on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 11:14 am 

    I worked for BP for years. They spend all their safety money doing things like banning pocketknives on the jobsite (true fact), and finding ways to make any injury your fault. None left for maintaining or installing up-to-date safety controls on equipment.
    Look at all their past major incidents. (Texas City for example)
    That’s why most workers refused to report any band-aid injury. The brought their own band-aids and Neosporin in their lunch box.

  7. rockman on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 11:39 am 

    “BP over pressurized the well until something broke.” Highly unlikely: you don’t pump into a producing well. It’s likely a case of drown hole casing failure. A well head is bolted to the top of the casing string. For the wellhead to pop up out of the ground typically implies the casing parted. In the world of such problems that would be one of the more complicated. IOW it could take quit a while to stop the oil flow.

    Midnight – “But it’s all good, right ROCKMAN?”. Well, good for you consumers that require oil development in such delicate environments. But y’all must have your fossil fuels…y’all have spoken. LOL.

  8. Midnight Oil on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 12:36 pm 

    No ROCKMAN, GOOD for HOLLYWOOD and the next diaster epic movie as a sequel to the Deep Water Horizon. Hee Hee Remember I am a lot smarter than YALL in Hillbilly TEXASs

    Any, the good old days! RIP Andy

  9. Anonymouse on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 12:48 pm 

    It was probably environmentalists mucking around, trying to cost BP money,right rockerman?

  10. Hawkcreek on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 2:04 pm 

    Deadhorse is an old field and has a good percentage of injection wells mixed in among the producers. It would help to know what type of well it was.
    Within 5 miles of Deadhorse there are very few new wells being drilled. Mostly workovers and fill-ins.

  11. rockman on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 2:18 pm 

    Hawk – Since oil is spilling probably not an injector. And old well? Corroded casing or bad packer maybe. Given BP’s poor maintenance history on the pipeline could be anything.

  12. Apneaman on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 4:27 pm 

    That ain’t the only thing “leaking” up north.

    Methane seeps in the Canadian high Arctic


    A key feature of this discovery is recognition that all the seep mounds formed during a very narrow range of geologic time. Because they form by leakage of methane into seawater it implies that something at that time caused a large release of methane into the ocean. The timing is coincident with a period of global warming, and Williscroft and colleagues suggest that it was this warming that released methane frozen as methane hydrates in the sea floor, as a relatively sudden methane “burp.” If correct, this has important implications for modern warming of the Arctic Ocean. Similar frozen methane hydrates occur throughout the same arctic region as they did in the past, and warming of the ocean and release of this methane is of key concern as methane is 20x the impact of CO2 as a greenhouse gas.”

    20 times is a lowball.

    Methane CH4 – 25X GWP 100 years

    I’ve seen other shorter term GWP even higher.

    FEBRUARY 26, 2016 – 2 C Coming On Faster Than We Feared — Atmospheric Methane Spikes to Record 3096 Parts Per Billion

  13. Go Speed Racer on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 4:36 pm 

    DUMMIES !! Light the phucker.
    That will get rid of the oil and gas.
    Also, keep the construction crew toasty warm,
    while they drill the intercept well next door.

    Right Mr. Rockman? Amen!

  14. shortonoil on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 4:50 pm 

    “Deadhorse is an old field and has a good percentage of injection wells mixed in among the producers.”

    One of those fields where they haven’t replaced a shut off value, to say nothing of a Christmas Tree, in forty years. How could something go wrong? Fitting name.

  15. bobinget on Sun, 16th Apr 2017 5:20 pm 

    Why didn’t a BOP catch over-pressure? Or, are blow out protection for drilling rigs only? In a production well, is blow-out protection in the hands of pressure
    gauges? If so, can the blow-out be shut-down below the gauge? If the casing ruptured, could too much gas
    in the line be the cause?

  16. Dredd on Mon, 17th Apr 2017 5:38 am 

    “All oil leaks, explosions, and other Oil-Qaeda perdition is the fault of the people it has been forced on.” – rockman (paraphrased)

    Sounds like one of the judges who extol the virtues of rapists while condemning the licentiousness of women who “make men rape them.”

    “Oil-Qaeda is spending billions on propaganda to convince us that wee the people are to blame for their having addicted civilization to the deadly poison: toxic crude oil” (Choose Your Trances Carefully – 2).

  17. AFDF on Mon, 17th Apr 2017 9:05 am 

    so the oil industry doesn’t have a remote controlled valve they can shut off without risking lives. that’s dumb

  18. Wildbourgman on Mon, 17th Apr 2017 9:10 am 

    Bobinget, BOP’s are not on producing wells. This well would have a wellhead that serves a similar purpose as a BOP. Shutting the well should be fairly easy.

    One caveat is if they believe the casing parted then shutting the wellhead’s valves may not totally fix the problem. They may even be concerned about causing or worsening an underground blowout if they shut the wellhead.

  19. Wildbourgman on Mon, 17th Apr 2017 9:17 am 

    AFDF, the oilfield does currently use that type of technology in many areas of our industry. Like I said in the above comment, BP might be concerned that shutting the well will make things worse. Also I don’t know what capabilities they have on older wells in the North Slope.

    I’ve worked on wells in the Gulf of Mexico where we had a “differential valve” installed in the production tubing where if anything ruptured and there was a major change in differential across the valve the well would shut in. It was a real pain in the butt to keep that thing from activating accidently but it would prevent a blowout.

    Also most GOM wells have subsurface safety valves and wellhead valves that are controlled remotely.

  20. Cloggie on Mon, 17th Apr 2017 12:11 pm 

    Projects in Europe show that you do not need the government or big business to get a utility scale wind farm built entirely by private citizens, who financially participate in the project:

    Usually there is a lot protest by the inevitable “not in my backyard crowd” any time a new wind park is scheduled.

    The picture changes completely though if these same wind turbines generate money for the

  21. Apneaman on Mon, 17th Apr 2017 2:03 pm 

    Here’s your Anthropocene in action.

    Climate change stole a Yukon river almost overnight, scientists say. Here’s how

    Its water rerouted by a retreating glacier, the Slims River offers researchers an extreme example of ‘river piracy’ – one with far-reaching implications for northern waters, Ivan Semeniuk explains

    Nowhere on the planet are changes happening as fast as in the far north.

  22. rockman on Mon, 17th Apr 2017 2:57 pm 

    Bob – “Why didn’t a BOP catch over-pressure? Or, are blow out protection for drilling rigs only?/” Yes: BOP on drill rigs.

    “In a production well, is blow-out protection in the hands of pressure gauges? If so, can the blow-out be shut-down below the gauge?”. Essentially a wellhead is nothing but a series on control valves. It is inside the “production tubing” that oil/NG flows up from the reservoir. And that tubing is inside the casing…in fact typically inside of several strings of different diameter casings that are concentrically inside each other.

    Hmm…OK…a more complicated story but the only way to appreciate the numerous ways a well can fail leading to not only a leak at the surface but also down hole including contamination fresh water aquifers.

    You’ve heard about “cementing” a well. That’s not to hold the casing in place. It’s done to isolate different pressure regimes. There one more potential failure point: the packer. Think of a rubber stopper. The tubing is run thru a packer which is set inside the deepest casing string just above the producing reservoir. The packer isolates the reservoir pressure (say 8,000 psi) below it from the casing above it. So: casing pressure below packer… 8,000 psi. Casing pressure above packer…300 psi (from heat of oil/NG flowing up tubing. Pressure inside tubing at packer: 8,000 psi. “Annulus”: that tiny fraction of an inch space between the casing and the rock. Annulus pressure at completion: 8,000 psi. Annulus pressure above completion: ZERO PSI because the cement isolates that area. And between each of the concentric strings of casing is cement done to isolate that ” casing annulus “.

    And all the different diameter strings of casing and the production tubing is tied into its own valve system in the well head. So maybe 3 different valves (each with its own pressure gauge) and 2 or 3 valves on the production tubing itself. Different valves so different ports on the well head can be used to send different tools down the well.

    It’s more complicated then that but it serves my purpose: each one of those packers, cements, ports and valves has a potential to fail. In addition such a failure might also cause a section of the casing itself to rupture. I’ve seen situations where ruptured casing can push a well head above the ground several feet: imagine heat causing metal to expand and thousands of feet of metal casing the well head is attached to.

    BP will have to get pressure readings on each section of the well in hopes of figuring out what went wrong and how to fix it. But depending on the damage at the well head some or even all of that data might not be retrievable.

    It’s very, very rare for this type of failure of a producing well to spill much oil. OTOH if you look at the very, very rare procedure that BP used that led to the Macondo blowout if any company could f*ck up that bad they certainly have the ability.

  23. rockman on Mon, 17th Apr 2017 3:08 pm 

    AFDF – Along with the Woodman’s comment offshore we use another safety device called a “storm choke”. Actually commonly used when a hurricane moves into the GOM. Not only are all the valves on the well head are closed before the personnel leave the platform but they’ll physically run what’s amounts to an industrial strength stopper down the well. So even if the platform is completely destroyed the storm choke will keep the oil from spilling.

  24. bobinget on Mon, 17th Apr 2017 8:58 pm 

    BP leak in Alaska fuels debate on future drilling
    “Three things that no one wants to hear together: BP, oil and leaking. A BP well sprung a leak in the Alaskan Arctic this past Friday. Reports say crude oil is no longer spraying from the leak, but natural gas is still venting out. This will surely prompt a new round of questions about whether to drill in the northern-most stretches of the planet. The Trump administration appears all-in on arctic oil, even if the current market doesn’t need the extra supply.”

  25. bobinget on Mon, 17th Apr 2017 9:04 pm 

    Oh, thanks Rockman for that clear, articulate, educated, explanation. I know it didn’t come cheap.

  26. Davy on Tue, 18th Apr 2017 3:30 am 

    Rock, your short technicals on oil production is very enlightening, thanks.

  27. Theedrich on Tue, 18th Apr 2017 4:54 am 

    But we need the oil. The alternative is too frightening to contemplate. For politicians, that is.

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