A flowline to a well operated by BP at Prudhoe Bay leaked on Monday. Before the spill was under control high winds resulted in a spray of natural gas, crude oil and water that covers an area of tundra larger than 20 football fields.
According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, operators with BP were working at a well, when a flowline leaking. Ashley Adamczak is an Environmental Program Specialist with DEC. She says 30-mile-an-hour winds on the North Slope sprayed leaking natural gas, water and crude oil across an estimated 27 acres of snow-covered tundra.
“What has not been delineated at this time is the part that has been moderately or lightly misted,” Adamczak said.
The leak was isolated roughly two hours after it began. With temperatures still below freezing on the North Slope, Adamczak says the entire well pad has been shut down in order to protect other wells from freezing or leaking.
“There [are] millions of miles of pipe and thousands of wells on the North Slope, then spills do happen,” Adamczak said. “Fortunately, we don’t get a lot of these spills coming through, but I can’t say that this is the first time that a spill like this has occurred.”
It’s still unclear how many gallons of gas, oil and water have spread across the tundra. Adamczak says cleanup will be challenging.
“Due to the fact that a lot of it was spilled to tundra, they have to go out there with less aggressive means, so that they don’t actually make the response activities cause more of an impact than the spill did, so a lot of the cleanup will probably be done with hand tools and that’s a lot of area to address with hand tools at these temperatures,” Adamczak said.
DEC is working with the North Slope Borough, BP Exploration and the Environmental Protection Agency to respond to the incident. There’s no estimate on how long it will take, but Adamczak says the agencies hope to complete cleanup before migrating geese start to arrive on the North Slope.