WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to calls from U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today released a draft plan for the cleanup of decades-old exploration wells drilled by the federal government in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A).
“After repeated requests, the BLM has finally released a plan to address the ongoing environmental pollution occurring within the NPR-A. 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,” Murkowski said.
The BLM draft plan identifies 50 sites that require remediation, and places a priority on just 16 wells for cleanup work.
From 1944 to 1981, the federal government drilled 136 exploratory wells in the NPR-A, and then abandoned them. Only 16 of the 136 wells have been properly plugged, and seven of those were taken care of by the North Slope Borough, not by BLM, which is responsible for the wells. The remaining 120 wells are in various conditions of non-compliance with state law. The drill sites, many of which are contaminated by wood, metal, plastic, glass and concrete debris are also littered with rusting barrels once filled with contaminants.
“Let me be clear, these wells were drilled by the federal government, so the cleanup is solely the responsibility of the federal government,” Murkowski said. “I expect the federal government to live up to the same high environmental standards that it holds private oil companies to – Alaskans won’t tolerate a double standard.”
On Tuesday, Murkowski called a proposal to make Alaska pay for the cleanup of the federal wells “dead on arrival.” She reminded federal officials that the federal government has earned $9.4 billion from oil and natural gas leasing in Alaska, while the legacy wells have remained an issue.
“While BLM argues it lacks the money to adequately address its responsibilities in Alaska, it continues to seek increased funding for other priorities,” Murkowski said. “My priority is seeing that the federal government fulfills its obligations to Alaska first.”
Murkowski vowed to continue to work with BLM to address the legacy wells and other Alaska priorities, in her role as the ranking member of both the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.