BLM outlines strategy to clean up Alaska legacy wells

Half of the 136 wells the US government drilled in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska from 1944 to 1982 require no further action, the US Bureau of Land Management said as it issued its final plan to address these “legacy” wells.

The 68 wells were either remediated or pose no threat to the public or environment, it explained. Another 18 are being used by the US Geological Survey to monitor climate change in the Arctic, and the remaining 50 will require various levels of additional cleanup work, BLM said on Sept. 23.

Bud Crilby, BLM’s Alaska state director, said the US Department of the Interior agency appreciated input from Alaska’s state government, North Slope borough officials, and other stakeholders in preparing the plan.

“While this final plan lays out an aggressive strategy to address 16 of our highest priority wells, we continue to work with our partners to determine the next steps on the remaining wells requiring remediation,” he said.

The 16 high-priority wells include some that pose high risks to the surface, including three sites on the Simpson Peninsula where the US Navy left solid waste behind, according to BLM. Work there could happen as early as next year’s field season, it said.

The Navy and USGS initially drilled the exploratory wells to gather geologic data or to identify petroleum reserves, BLM said. It inherited the responsibility to assess, and if necessary, plug and clean up wells and surface sites in 1982, when administration of the NPR-A was transferred from the Navy to DOI.

Crilby said full remediation of the wells will require tremendous resources in the coming years, but BLM is committed to getting the job done.

Contact Nick Snow at

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