Legacy Well Iko Bay #1, a 2731-foot-deep natural gas well, was plugged and abandoned after a full remediation by the BLM. The agency, in coordination with the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, completed this effort in northern Alaska fewer than two miles from the Beaufort Sea during the late winter and early spring of 2023.
“This was one of our initial high-priority wells,” said Rob Brumbaugh, BLM’s oil and gas section chief, “to get it done and get it off the list is outstanding.”
Drilled in 1975 as part of the federal government’s nearly 40-year exploratory effort in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, Iko Bay well was left open, ready to be piped into Utqiagvik’s oil and gas infrastructure. The subsequent infrastructure never materialized and the well sat there with consistent pressure on the wellhead, letting out a whistle.
The first plug didn’t take in 2016 due to unexpected conditions encountered downhole, so the BLM used congressionally appropriated funds to set the final two plugs this year. Temperatures rarely rose above zero degrees, so contractors melted snow to mix the cement and created the plug. The completion of the project shows that solid logistics, modern technology and “can-do” crew, remediating wells like Iko Bay can be done. Any potential liquids or gas were permanently stymied from seeping to the tundra surface.
Moving forward, the BLM’s strategy is to continue monitoring the legacy wells and to first plug and remediate wells that present a potential risk, while prioritizing future plugging and remediation based upon available funding and the agencies strategic plan. The BLM recognizes the importance of working collaboratively with the State of Alaska, Alaska Native Corporations, Tribal governments and other partners to accomplish this strategy.
Brumbaugh says that only 30 wells remain, and that 17 of those are being used by the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor temperatures in the Arctic. “The BLM is committed to plugging and cleaning up of all the remaining wells.”