Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
August 2020

Vol. 25, No.31 Week of August 02, 2020

AOGCC rules against French on waste

Kristen Nelson

Petroleum News

In a July 28 order the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission ruled against Hollis French, formerly the commission’s chair, on a claim that waste occurred as a result of gas escaping when the DS02-03B well failed in April 2017.

“Shortly after the failure, AOGCC determined the gas which escaped was not waste under 20 AAC 25.235(d)(5)(B). French was an AOGCC commissioner at the time,” the commission said in its order.

French had petitioned the commission in 2019 to hold a hearing on a complaint of waste from the North Slope well, a petition the commission denied on the basis that circumstances surrounding release of gas from the well were the subject of an ongoing investigation.

French appealed to Alaska Superior Court which ordered the commission to hold the requested hearing.

At the June 23 hearing, French said he didn’t think there was any doubt that there was an uncontrolled gas release at the well.

Venting gas

A situation report from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said the venting of gas from the well was discovered in the morning of April 14, 2017, with a team from well control contractor Boots and Coots able to place a plug in the damaged piping April 16, allowing fluid to be pumped into the well April 17 killing it.

In its July 28 order the commission said French argued at the June 23 hearing that the failure at DS02-03B “created a dangerous situation. French further stated that his waste petition was premised solely on his view that gas escaping into the air constitutes waste as a matter of strict liability. French’s claim is contrary to the language of the AOGCC’s enabling act, AS 31.05.170(15)(H), and its regulations, 20 AAC 25.235(d)(5)(B). As a result, French has failed to demonstrate waste occurred.”

At the hearing French said he and the commission have different views on the commission’s boundary of jurisdiction.

French was appointed to the commission by Gov. Bill Walker in 2016 and dismissed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in 2019. Dunleavy cited neglect of duty and said a hearing officer found “substantial evidence to show an ‘overall pattern’ of absenteeism and that it was ‘more norm than … exception’” and substantial evidence that French did not perform routine work, which then fell to others,

The hearing officer found that “Commissioner French was persistent and energetic in pursuing his view that the jurisdiction of the AOGCC was being interpreted more narrowly than he believed that the enabling statutes intended.”

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