The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has identified 50 abandoned wells in the Alaska arctic that require cleanup by the agency.
BLM released a draft plan Wednesday that prioritizes the remediation of the first 16 of those sites in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
It's not clear how much clean-up will cost. The draft anticipates work beginning this year, with cleanup around several sites of drums submerged in oil seeps and other surface debris.
BLM-Alaska spokeswoman Erin Curtis says well work could begin next year and span three years, assuming everything goes according to plan.
BLM says it also has identified 68 wells that it believes require no additional action.
In a Wednesday statement, Sen. Lisa Murkowski hailed the release of the BLM plan as progress, but refused to accept a “double standard” between the federal cleanup and the government's requirements for cleanups by oil companies.
“After repeated requests, the BLM has finally released a plan to address the ongoing environmental pollution occurring within the NPR-A,” Murkowski said. “That’s a step in the right direction, but I’m concerned that the agency appears to have unilaterally decided that more than half of the wells don’t require remediation. That’s not the federal government’s decision to make -- that’s up to the state of Alaska.”
Sen. Mark Begich echoed Murkowski's Tuesday skepticism about federal proposals to use Alaska's share of NPR-A revenue for the cleanup, adding that he spoke Wednesday with Bud Cribley, BLM-Alaska's region director.
“There is no way that Alaska is picking up the bill for the NPR-A legacy wells,” Begich said. "To me, this budget proposal cooked up in Washington is just a gimmick and I told them as much.”
Affected parties, including the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, will be asked to comment on the plan before it's finalized.
Contact Chris Klint