BP Well Sprays Crude Oil Mist Over 27 Acres Of Alaskan Tundra


Snow-covered Alaskan tundra sprayed by a mixture of oil, gas, and water released from a BP well pad on Monday.

A large pipe attached to a BP-owned well pad on Alaska’s North Slope has sprayed an oily mist of natural gas, crude oil, and water over an area of tundra larger than 20 football fields, state officials confirmed Wednesday.

The discovery at BP’s Prudhoe Bay oil field operation comes one week after federal scientists released a report warning that the United States is woefully unprepared to handle oil spills in the Arctic.

A statement provided by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said BP discovered the release on Monday during routine inspections, and that the spray was active for about two hours before it was contained. The pipe spewing the gas mixture was facing upwards while strong 30 mph winds blew, which ultimately caused the spray to spread over 27 acres.

It is unclear at this point how much of the mixture was released, the DEC statement said.

A spokesperson for BP did not immediately return ThinkProgress’ request for comment Wednesday about its cleanup effort, but spokesperson Dawn Patience told the Associated Press that it is “still assessing repairs.” Patience reportedly said it was too soon to determine long-term impacts from the release, but that no wildlife were impacted.

Federal scientists from the National Research Council recently confirmed the difficulty of cleaning up spills in the Arctic. According to their 198-page report, the Arctic’s environment is uniquely challenging due to pockets of oil that get trapped under freezing ice, sealing it beyond the reach of traditional cleanup equipment. The Arctic also lacks a variety of infrastructure, including paved roads, which could make response time exponentially longer than typical spills.

The Prudhoe Bay has experienced oil spills at the hands of BP before. In 2006, approximately 267,000 gallons of oil spilled from a quarter-inch hole corroded in a BP-owned pipeline, the largest spill in the region’s history at the time.

Like the recent incident, BP officials were not aware of the 2006 spill when it began. That spill went undetected for five days until a field worker smelled crude oil while driving through the area.

BP also spilled about 13,500 gallons of oil near Prudhoe Bay in November 2009, when a section of the company’s pipeline at its Lisburne Processing Center ruptured. That rupture created a two-foot hole in the pipe which allowed oil to spill onto the tundra and surrounding wetlands.

At the time, the U.S. government chalked both incidents up to irresponsibility on BP’s part, seeking multi-million dollar fines for the offenses.

“This [2009] rupture was the result of a predictable and preventable freezing of produced water within the pipeline that caused the pipe to over-pressurize and burst,” the government said in a lawsuit over the 2009 spill. “Eerily similar to the 2006 spill, BP ignored alarms that warned of the pipe’s eventual rupture and leak.”

According to BP’s website, the company is currently undertaking a plan to restore the areas affected by the 2009 spill.