Update, April 18, 2017, at 10:11 a.m. ET:
Yesterday (April 17) afternoon, responders from a contractor that specializes in well control successfully plugged the damaged portion of the leaking wellhead. They were also able to kill the well. Once they install a mechanical plug, the structure will be officially secure. Authorities from environmental agencies have still not said what caused the well to rupture.
A well has been misting an unknown amount of natural gas on Alaska’s North Slope near Prudhoe Bay since Friday (April 14). The BP-owned well was also leaking crude oil, which stopped after authorities activated a safety valve yesterday (April 16). However, responders haven’t been able to safely access the area to address the two ongoing natural gas leaks.
The EPA and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation have had to inform the Iñupiat community in Nuiqsut, Alaska, about 50 miles west of the well, about the incident, though the agencies don’t clarify why. The department said in an update that the village “has been notified of the incident and is receiving situation updates via these situation reports.”
Tribal administrator Martha Itta did not get back to Colorlines by publication. Neither did BP.
BP Exploration Alaska, Inc., employees discovered the leak Friday morning. After they reported it, authorities found another leak. Both have impacted an area of about one-and-a-half acres. So far, they report that no one has been injured and no wildlife impacted. All personnel who were working at the well site have been evacuated.
Authorities still don’t know what caused the well to leak except that the wellhead cracked. “Based on an overflight with infrared cameras, the release appears to be contained to the gravel pad surrounding the wellhead and has not reached the tundra," BP spokesman Brett Clanton told The Associated Press Saturday (April 15).
The oil company will ultimately have to “kill the well,” an expensive and dangerous process that stops the extraction process. But first it must figure out how to plug the leak near the top of the well. Afterwards, BP must coordinate a cleanup with its internal oil spill response organization and Alaska Clean Seas, a nonprofit that specializes in oil spill response.
BP was behind the worst oil spill in the United States: the 2010 Gulf oil spill. Eleven people died; 3.19 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico; and Native Americans saw their sacred land and seas covered in oil after the incident.
Alaska’s environmental agencies will release another update on the leaks later today (April 17).