After more than a week, gas is still leaking on the North Slope, according to ConocoPhillips

Ten days after a natural gas leak was discovered at its alpine oil operation on Alaska’s North Slope, ConocoPhillips is still trying to pinpoint the exact source and says it is heating up a drilling rig it could use to locate her.

Company officials, along with leaders of the Borough of North Slope and the local Aboriginal Village Society, continue to reassure residents of the nearby village of Nuiqsut that the leak in Alpine, about 13 km , poses no threat to public safety.

And Conoco says the ongoing gas release has decreased to “below detectable levels” on the pad, CD-1, where it was first discovered.

But the village mayor, in a telephone interview on Monday, said she was frustrated that the company ended daily calls with her this week and stopped taking live questions during its interview sessions. information for residents – instead referring them to a new company-sponsored website and helpline.

“The company has cut off direct communication with the community,” said Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, who has also fought Conoco’s plans in court. “We don’t have the ability to ask questions.”

In a brief telephone interview Monday, spokeswoman Rebecca Boys said the company takes the concerns of Nuiqsut residents “very seriously” and is committed to providing “periodic updates to the Mayor of Nuiqsut and to the community as we become aware of new information.”

“The general context of all of this is: there are no injuries. There is no impact on the tundra. There is no impact on the wildlife,” Boys said. “We want to making sure this community is safe. We want to make sure our workforce is safe, the surrounding community, the environment, all of that.

The boys said Conoco employees visited Nuiqsut early last week just to make sure people got their questions answered. The company’s village liaison also offers tours of its community air monitoring site.

Conoco, which owns and operates Alpine, says it detected no natural gas outside the CD-1 pad, where oil production has since been shut down.

The company first observed the gas in a specific well — a sort of hut surrounding the top of the well — but it’s still unclear if that well, or what part of it, could be the source of the outbreak. leaked, Boys said. The gas comes from underground, under the gravel, she added.

“At this time we are investigating the source,” she said.

“It’s a big problem”

Conoco hasn’t explained how it thinks the leak started, what could have caused it, or details of how the rig could be used to fix it – other than to say the rig is in the process of to be heated was drilling a sewage injection well when the gas was first detected.

[ConocoPhillips Alaska employees evacuated due to prolonged natural gas leak on the North Slope.]

The company also reported salt water leaking from three well houses at CD-1 — hut-like enclosures covering the tops of the wells — estimated at 600,000 gallons, according to a report filed with the Department of state environmental conservation.

The company did not explain how the salt water could be connected to the gas leak. But during a briefing for Nuiqsut last week, Ben Stevens, a vice president at Conoco, said the contents of the liquid appeared to be gravel and water and “not drilling mud”.

The fact that Conoco is preparing a drilling rig to deal with the leak is likely an indication that there is a problem somewhere below the top of the well, where problems could otherwise be solved by fixing the valves or pumping in cement, said Mark Myers, a petroleum geologist and former state commissioner of natural resources.

“It indicates that something is seriously wrong with the integrity of the wellbore,” he said. “It’s a big problem.”

State agencies – which Conoco met with earlier on Monday – released almost no details of their response to the leak, other than an acknowledgment from the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that it is investigating. on the situation.

The commission, as a “quasi-judicial agency,” cannot release details until its investigation is complete, said special assistant Grace Salazar. But the commission has sent a letter to Conoco, obtained by the Daily News, outlining the scope of its investigation and ordering the company to provide a series of documents, data and reports – and reserves the right to pursue legal action. ‘execution.

The letter, dated Friday, says the commission’s investigation is focusing on the “root causes and contributing factors” of the leak, the extent of the gas release, regulatory compliance and determining whether waste existed. . He said Conoco would be required to provide the commission with daily status reports, plans to determine the source and cause of the leak, well details, gas sampling results and a final incident report. by April 4.

The letter also said Conoco should retain all documents related in any way to the gas leak.

Jason Brune, Alaska’s environmental conservation commissioner, said his agency and other state agencies — including the health and natural resources departments — are also closely monitoring the leak.

“We are absolutely mindful of that,” Brune said in a brief phone call Monday. “Several agencies are interested in it.”

Returning workers

Meanwhile, the central alpine facility continues its essential operations. And after 300 non-essential workers were evacuated last week, some are starting to return, with the workforce expected to reach at least 50% of normal operations by the middle of the week, Conoco said.

In Nuiqsut, meanwhile, there is no evidence that gas from the leak is present in the village, according to Conoco. The company has placed additional air quality monitoring systems there to provide faster measurements to the community and to monitor volatile organic compounds, Stevens said.

Company officials said they do not anticipate the need for an evacuation from Nuiqsut or other areas outside of the CD-1 area based on current data. North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower also said in a statement last week that “no evacuations were ever considered” and “there is no need to leave the community”.

Yet more than 20 Nuiqsut families, fearing the progress of the flight, left the village last week, and many have still not returned, said Ahtuangaruak, the mayor.

[Gas leak at North Slope oil development continues as ConocoPhillips says source remains unknown.]

“Many of them said before they left that they were worried about their homes, they were worried about their family members,” Ahtuangaruak said. “Some of them were very concerned about the reactions they were having.”

Some residents have complained of headaches and nausea, Ahtuangaruak said.

“They were worried things would get worse,” she said. “And some of them are still very worried about coming back.”

Bernice Kaigelak of the Arctic Slope Native Association said residents weren’t the only ones leaving the village.

“I was just discouraged that we lost essential staff who were supposed to be here but chose to leave. Because of their families, they had to leave,” Kaigelak said. “This event really impacted our community.”

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