February 13, 2007 --- Vol. 13, No. 11February 2007

AOGCC issues report on investigation into BP well cellar contamination

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has issued its report on its investigation into allegations by oil industry watchdog Charles Hamel concerning drilling pad and tundra contamination from BP-operated Alaska North Slope wells. Hamel told AOGCC in June 2006 that BP employees had notified him that oil was leaking into some well cellars and that the oil was escaping into gravel well pads and tundra ponds.

Hamel accused AOGCC and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation of being complicit in allowing the alleged contamination to continue. Hamel also said that the tundra around the well sites was covered with trash and debris.

Following the inspection of nearly 100 wellheads and an anonymous survey of BP North Slope well operations staff, AOGCC has concluded that no production oil has leaked into the well cellars. The commission’s investigation team found that some hydrocarbons had accumulated in some well cellars, but that those hydrocarbons had originated from sources such as freeze protection fluids placed in the outer annulus of a well to insulate the well from the permafrost. BP operates vacuum trucks that remove fluids from well cellars where hydrocarbons have been observed.

The commission found that some of the hydrocarbons had leaked from well cellars into the gravel drilling pads, but the commission could find no evidence that those hydrocarbons had migrated into tundra ponds. And the commission said that, although the accumulation of winter trash on the tundra around the North Slope oil facilities appears to have increased in recent years, BP clears away all of the trash once the winter snow has melted.

“The commission finds no basis to take enforcement actions against BPXA as a result of the findings of this investigation,” the commission said.

And most people who responded to the investigation survey expressed confidence in BP’s health, safety and environmental reporting arrangements, the commission said.

The commission did, however, recommend seeking ways to improve inspection procedures, well fluid release reporting requirements and handling procedures; and well cellar sealing arrangements.

“We will fully evaluate the report and consider all the recommendations and apply the learnings,” BP spokesperson Daren Beaudo told Petroleum News Feb. 12. “It corroborates our previous statements about well operations and hydrocarbons in well cellars.”

For full stories, see the Feb. 18 edition of Petroleum News.

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