Source of North Slope gas leak still unknown as some nearby residents opt to leave the area

Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 9:13 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A natural gas leak detected last week at a North Slope oilfield operated by ConocoPhillips Alaska is still ongoing. The cause has not yet been identified and some residents of the nearby village Nuiqsut have left the area out of precaution.

The gas leak was first detected last Friday at a drill site at the Alpine Field on the North Slope, about 8 miles from Nuiqsut. It’s occurring at the Alpine Central Facility’s CD1 pad.

Bruce Kuzyk, North Slope vice president of operations for ConocoPhillips Alaska, said on Wednesday that the subsurface gas release is “weeping up” through the gravel bed.

“It is a small volume of gas, but what the concern is, is it shouldn’t be there,” he said.

Kuzyk said the company has stood up a “significant volume” of people to address the leak and called the situation “all hands on deck.”

ConocoPhillips Alaska had evacuated non-essential personnel from the CD1 pad and the Alpine Central Facility on Monday. Kuzyk said the company moved approximately 300 employees to Kuparuk River Field about 34 miles away and to other camps, keeping minimum staffing to focus on the CD1 pad. It’s also to maintain stable production at the site, he said.

The Alpine Central Facility provides the village of Nuiqsut with natural gas for heating homes and other buildings. According to Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, there was concern on Monday that the facility would have to shut down production. If that happens, that only leaves a few days supply of natural gas in the line for Nuiqsut.

“In the summertime when they shut that down to do its maintenance systems, we have about nine days of gas,” she said on Wednesday. “In the wintertime, I would say maybe four to seven days of gas, and that is an immediate concern living in the Arctic.”

Nuiqsut is on high alert status. Ahtuangaruak said that the village did go through the process to change over its facilities to diesel, just in case the natural gas supply to Nuiqsut had to be shut down.

“We did ask our community to identify alternative heat sources,” she said. “And some houses did not have them but some houses do have diesel and families did try to get diesel delivered to their houses.”

About 20 families have opted to leave Nuiqsut out of concern, Ahtuangaruak said. The evacuations of staff by ConocoPhillips Alaska were witnessed by residents of Nuiqsut, “and that did cause the village a lot of concern,” she said.

Also still fresh in their minds, too, is a blowout that happened 10 years ago at a drilling site run by Repsol, a Spanish oil company.

“We were forced to hunker down during that event,” Ahtuangaruak said.

Some community members left Nuiqsut on Monday, and some left on Wednesday. Ahtuangaruak said the village is working on getting a tally of which homes are empty as part of their preparedness plan.

Ahtuangaruak said ConocoPhillips Alaska is communicating with the village periodically through the day, with a community update each day. The company is set to go to Nuiqsut on Thursday, she said, for a community meeting.

Kuzyk said the company is taking a “methodical” approach to finding the source and the path of the leak.

“We have the CD1 pad contained and we are monitoring it right now and at this point we see no natural gas readings off of the pad,” Kuzyk said.

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