BP trying to plug oil leak on Alaska's North Slope

By Steven MufsonThe Washington Post

A BP oil and gas production well in Alaska’s North Slope blew out Friday morning, and on Saturday afternoon, the well was still not under control as responders fought subfreezing temperatures and winds gusting up to 38 mph.

Efforts to get the well under control were also being hampered by damage to a well pressure gauge and by indications that the well itself has “jacked up,” or risen 3 to 4 feet, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said in a situation report Saturday afternoon.

BP, whose Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico blew out and caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history, has responded to questions about the well, but information was limited and there was no estimate about volumes of natural gas and oil released.

The well was venting natural gas and sending a “spray” of crude oil into the air Saturday. BP has reported to regulators that the crude spray has landed on the drilling pad but it remains unsafe to approach the well and determine whether the crude spray has affected tundra in the area. An overflight with infrared capabilities indicated that the spray plume did not spread beyond the drilling pad, according to the Alaska DEC.

The ADEC also said that two leaks have been identified at the well, one near the top and one farther down the well assembly.

“The top leak was misting oil in conjunction with releasing natural gas,” the department said, but “the activation of the surface safety valve has stopped the release from that point. The bottom leak has been reduced, but is currently leaking gas as well as some minor amount of crude oil.”

“BP is in the process of shutting in a well at the Prudhoe Bay oil field that experienced an unplanned release of hydrocarbon,” said Brett Clanton, a BP spokesman in Houston.