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BP, an oil firm, has brought a leaking well on Alaska’s North Slope under control. On Friday, April 14, a well at the on-shore facility (pictured above) was reported to be spewing oil. Two gas leaks were also detected. According to BP, the well can produce 500 barrels per day, but all of the oil that sprayed out during the incident remained within the gravel pad that surrounds it.
The gas release was the more serious concern, due to the presence of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and the fact that it was released into the atmosphere. Even so, both, according to state officials, were minor: no injuries were reported, and no immediate harm to wildlife was reported. The most pressing concern for the time being will be to determine the reason for the leaks.
More difficult to put a lid on will be the discussion about oil drilling in the region the spill has energised, not least as Donald Trump has made it clear that he intends to reverse a ban on offshore drilling in waters of the US Arctic, passed by his predecessor during his final month in office.
The two operations have little in common, but groups opposed to drilling have seized the timing of the event and the firm responsible to strengthen their argument: nearly seven years ago to the day, on April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig being operated by BP in the Gulf of Mexico, suffered a blowout that, by the time the well was sealed five months later, resulted in the leak of what amounts to 4.9 million barrels of oil.
Conservation groups point out that the Deepwater Horizon spill occurred in placid conditions, and a large number of privately owned boats available to assist in the clean-up. Yet, even with these advantages, it became the worst marine spill in the history of the industry.
Crews trying to get this weekend’s leak under control faced freezing temperatures and high winds. Offshore, crews would have added challenges, including sea ice or heavy seas. Drilling opponents fret the remoteness of the North Slope gives drillers at least one advantage: they fear it will make it harder for outside groups to get to the bottom of what caused the leak.
Other discussions will focus on the economics of Arctic drilling, particularly offshore. Few doubt the supply is there, but with other fields offering easier, and by extension cheaper access, the demand, for now, is not.