A BP well on Alaska’s North Slope is still spewing vented natural gas, following an oil spill from the same well on Friday. According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the well is no longer spraying crude oil, but workers have not been able to staunch the flow of natural gas.
The cause of the release remains unknown, as does the total amount of oil spilled by the leak. In an incident report released Sunday, however, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said that the spill does not appear to have spread past the drilling pad around the well, and that there have been no reports of injuries or harm to wildlife.
But the release of vented natural gas means that the well is still leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, into the atmosphere. So far, officials have triggered a safety valve to slow the release of natural gas from the well, but the well was still leaking as of Sunday afternoon.
According to Bloomberg, BP is currently “putting together a plan to plug the gas leak.” Throughout the weekend, workers had to contend with gusting winds and subfreezing temperatures while attempting to staunch the flow of oil and natural gas.
The Prudhoe Bay oil field, where the well is located, is the largest oil field ever discovered in the United States. In 2006, a BP well in Prudhoe Bay spilled about 267,000 gallons of oil, the largest in the region’s history. That spill went undetected for five days.
The current BP natural gas leak on the North Slope isn’t even the only natural gas leak in Alaska right now — an underwater natural gas pipeline in Alaska’s Cook Inlet has been leaking for three months, threatening sensitive waters that are home to endangered beluga whales.
Fossil fuel companies have long eyed portions of Alaska’s North Slope currently off-limits to oil and gas production, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, home to over 200 species of migratory birds and the last onshore area for polar bear dens. The Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge also contains vast reserves of oil — as much as 16 billion recoverable barrels, by some estimates.
Indigenous communities and environmental groups have maintained that the area should be off-limits to fossil fuel production, due to the ecologically sensitive nature of the coastal plain and the difficulty associated with drilling for fossil fuels in a remote region prone to extreme weather. But Alaskan politicians have been bullish about the economic opportunities associated with increased drilling — Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has called opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling a “top priority.”
Update: According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, as of Monday, April 18, the well is no longer venting natural gas. Plans are underway to plug the well and officially secure it.