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Murkowski Spotlights Legacy Well Double Standard

Senator Lisa Murkowski today questioned Interior Department officials over the agency’s failure to properly plug and clean up more than 100 abandoned federally-drilled oil wells in Northern Alaska.

At a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Interior Subcommittee, Sen. Murkowski asked Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey why it’s taking the agency so long to remediate an estimated 137 abandoned wells that were drilled by the federal government, between 1944 to 1981, in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). To date, BLM has only plugged and properly abandoned about 10 of these wells.

“I know the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been in communication with BLM for years to try to get more done to keep the 50 top priority wells – generally those with open well casings – from causing environmental damage,” Sen. Murkowski said. “These were federally-drilled wells. We would never tolerate the private oil and gas industry leaving such legacy problems on federal lands.”

Sen. Murkowski pointed out the apparent double standard of allowing the federal government to fail to do what would be required of every private oil and gas company operating on federal land anywhere in the United States.

“The environmental standards for private companies are exceptionally high – and appropriately so – but on the federal government side they can come in and explore, they can leave, and their environmental responsibility is not attended to. If you were on the private side you would be fined $40 million,” Sen. Murkowski said.

Sen. Murkowski called on Director Abbey for a commitment for the BLM to coordinate with the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on clean up and provide an inventory of the exact number of abandoned wells and the associated costs for plugging them.

“We’re on track for cleaning up these at about one per year,” Sen. Murkowski said. “It’s going to take another 135 years to clean it up, which is certainly not acceptable.”

While acknowledging the agency’s budget constraints, Sen. Murkowski said revenues that have already been received from the NPR-A are sufficient to help clean up the abandoned wells.

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