House resolution aims anger at feds over old Arctic wells

Becky BohrerAssociated Press

JUNEAU -- A state House resolution calls on the federal government to properly plug and reclaim the sites of so-called legacy wells within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The government drilled nearly 140 wells in the reserve as part of an exploratory oil and gas program between 1944 and 1981, according to HJR29 and testimony. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees the abandoned wells.

The resolution says just seven wells have been properly plugged and reclaimed. It says that others are out of compliance with Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulations or can no longer be found but the state cannot impose fines on the federal government for violating those regulations.

Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, the resolution's primary sponsor, said the wells threaten the Arctic ecosystem. But she told the House Resources Committee this week that the state can't tell the federal government what to do, hence the resolution. Nearly the entire Alaska House has signed on in support of the measure.

BLM-Alaska Deputy State Director Ted Murphy testified that the agency in Alaska gets just $1 million for legacy wells. He and Cathy Foerster, a commissioner with the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said collaboration is important for moving ahead.

But Foerster didn't hold back in her frustration, pointing out what she called the hypocrisy of the federal government in wanting to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge while leaving a mess at the petroleum reserve.

She showed pictures of rusting barrels that she said were taken by BLM. She said BLM claims to have an insufficient budget to clean up the barrels but had the money for the helicopter to go out to photograph the barrels and for BLM to write a report.

Associated Press