Rep. Millett Presses Feds To Cleanup Legacy Oilfields

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by Russ Slaten

State Rep. Charisse Millett testified in front of the U.S. Senate Energy Committee today shedding light on the problem of the unplugged oil and gas wells within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NRPA).

Millett said the federally drilled wells have caused environmental harm for decades.

Republican Rep. Millett of Anchorage sponsored House Joint Resolution 29 during the past legislative session. The resolution asked the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to plug the wells properly and reclaim the lands as soon as possible.

Beginning in the mid 40's, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Geological Survey drilled 136 wells in Northern Alaska over the span of five decades.

The wells in NPRA have been abandoned and BLM has only plugged and reclaimed nine wells to date.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the actions by BLM are insufficient, inadequate, and embarrassing to the federal government. Sen. Murkowski asked for a report by September from BLM, stating it's plans in proceeding with cleanup.

Rep. Millett said if the state were capable of fining the federal government in the same manner it can fine private operators it would exceed $40 billion.

"This hypocrisy outrages Alaskans and should outrage all Americans. It adds insult to injury. Alaskans take pride in how we hold developers to the highest environmental standards in the world, yet the federal government, responsible for protecting America's land is the worst offender in Alaska," said Rep. Millett.

Many drill sites are contaminated by wood, metal, plastic and glass, and some by rusting barrels once filled with contaminants leaking hydrocarbon gas into the atmosphere, officials said.

Currently, BLM said there is only $1 million a year for cleanup, but one well takes more than that to complete. Sen. Murkowski said BLM must come with a plan to reclaim the most damaging wells first and send more funds toward cleanup.

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