BLM report is positive step toward clean-up of NPR-A legacy wells

May 8, 2013

Between 1944 and 1982, the federal government drilled more than 130 oil and gas wells in the Western Arctic. Most are abandoned and many still need to be cleaned up and properly closed.

The Wilderness Society today praised the federal Bureau of Land Management for releasing its updated Legacy Wells Summary Report and laying out a strategic plan to clean up abandoned oil and gas well sites drilled decades ago by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Geological Survey within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

“BLM inherited most of these contaminated sites when NPR-A lands were transferred to the agency in 1976,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society. “The wells have been deteriorating and have long been a threat to the wild landscape and Special Areas of the Western Arctic. We are grateful to BLM for creating a plan to prioritize, clean up and properly close abandoned wells.”

More than 130 wells were drilled and abandoned by the federal government between 1944 and 1982 as part of a program to estimate oil and gas reserves in the Western Arctic’s NPR-A, leaving polluted drilling sites in an area of incredible ecological importance for caribou, polar bears, marine mammals and migratory birds, as well as Alaska Native communities that depend on those species as a source of food.

In 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the amount of undiscovered oil in the 23.5 million-acre reserve – an area roughly the size of Indiana, and the largest tract of public land in the nation – was only one-tenth of what had been thought to exist after an earlier assessment nearly a decade earlier.

“This is one of the most remote and wild places remaining on the planet, and its importance to Native villages and wildlife cannot be overstated,” said Whittington-Evans. “There are many challenges still to be overcome before all legacy wells will be cleaned up, but moving forward with a plan is a great step toward resolution.”