BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. had a spill of approximately 450 barrels of drilling mud and cuttings at Northstar Jan. 16 when a containment dike failed.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said Jan. 17 that there was no oil contamination released in the spill because the drilling mud and cuttings in the containment cell were from rock above the oil-bearing zone.
DEC also said the drilling mud did not leave the island or contact any seawater.
BP contained the spill with a 150 foot by 200 foot temporary snow containment berm on the pad. The material solidified and is being pushed back into the containment cell with heavy equipment.
DEC said drilling was suspended and would remain on hold pending completion of the cleanup and investigation of the cause.
An ice road to the island has been completed and is being tested to determine if equipment can be transported to the site over ice. Once equipment has arrived on site, the spilled mud will be loaded onto trucks and stored on site until it can safely be transported over the ice to an approved disposal facility.
BP Exploration (Alaska) spokesman Paul Laird told PNA that drilling is expected to resume after cleanup, which is expected to take 48 to 72 hours to complete. He said that material will be stockpiled on the island until the ice road is completed and thick enough to support trucks, and then it will be taken to Drill Site 4 where a grind and inject facility is located.
Laird said that a disposal well has been drilled at Northstar. BP is waiting for necessary permits to use the well. Those permits are expected in the next week or two.
"That's why there are temporary containment cells on the island," Laird said. BP needed a place to put the mud and cuttings from the disposal well and from the first production well until the company receives approval to use the disposal well. After that approval is received, mud and cuttings will go down the disposal well.
Laird said the fluids in the containment cell are non-toxic. The mud and cuttings spill was and is fully contained and there was no damage to the environment, he said.
"The island was designed to minimize the risk of any kind of spill getting off the island," Laird said, "and it worked."