Energy

Congressional committee seeks information from ConocoPhillips on Alaska gas leak

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee is looking into the ConocoPhillips natural gas leak that was discovered early last month at its Alpine oil field on the North Slope.

Three Democratic lawmakers with the committee, including Chair Raul Grijalva of Arizona, sent a letter on Tuesday seeking information from the company’s chief executive, Ryan Lance.

“The ongoing leak and ConocoPhillips’ response raises a number of troubling questions, including how your company would respond to similar leaks at your proposed Willow project inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska,” reads the letter, which was also signed by California lawmakers Katie Porter and Alan Lowenthal.

The company reported April 8 that it had controlled and identified the source of the leak. On Tuesday, Rebecca Boys, a spokeswoman with ConocoPhillips, said intermittent, trace amounts of gas that were trapped beneath underground obstructions are still finding their way to the surface and are being detected near wellhouses, the shack-like structures enclosing the tops of wells.

Boys said in an email that the company has received the committee’s letter and is reviewing it to determine an appropriate response.

Boys said lessons from the gas release will be incorporated into future projects. The Willow project has undergone extensive environmental and permitting reviews that began in 2018, she said.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the agency overseeing the response, said Tuesday that the oil company is continuing its work to plug and abandon a waste disposal well that was being drilled when the leak occurred, according to an update. The remediation efforts began March 30.

The two-page letter from the lawmakers demands answers by May 13.

[Interior to remove millions of acres from possible oil development in National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska]

The lawmakers want answers to questions like why it took the company a month to identify the source of the leak, and whether it’s standard practice not to fully cement the outside of wells to prevent gas from escaping.

ConocoPhillips has previously said it did not install a layer of cement around the disposal well as it passed through a shallow formation that unexpectedly contained significant amounts of gas and was the source of the leak.

The oil company is still investigating the cause of the leak and what went wrong at the field, where gas escaped in several places at a drill site called CD1, the oil and gas commission said Tuesday.

ConocoPhillips has maintained that it has not detected gas outside the large gravel drill pad.

The gas leak led to the temporary removal of 300 personnel, alarmed residents in the nearby village of Nuiqsut, and halted oil production from the drill site.

ConocoPhillips has said 7.2 million cubic feet of natural gas was released into the atmosphere between March 4 and March 8, when the company was able to begin routing gas through the disposal well, an early step in bringing the leak under control.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or alex@adn.com.

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