U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) welcomed a recent announcement by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that, because of increased funding secured with Murkowski's help, it would be able to accelerate cleanup work on decades-old exploration wells drilled and then abandoned by federal surveyors in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A)
BLM Alaska State Director Bud Cribley met Thursday with Murkowski to provide a report on the agency's progress in cleaning up the so-called "legacy wells" on the North Slope, most of which are within the boundaries of the NPR-A.
"While we are well past any acceptable timeframe for the federal government to clean up the exploratory wells they drilled in the NPR-A, I'm pleased that BLM is finally making progress in addressing this important environmental issue," Murkowski said.
The bureau reported that due to the $50 million that Murkowski helped secure this fall, plus the additional $1 million provided in this year's consolidated appropriations bill, it would likely be able to do more work this year, and likely tackle more of the untreated 118 wells abandoned after federal oil exploration programs in the NPR-A undertaken in the 1940s and 1980s.
"Director Cribley indicated that having this sizable amount of funding upfront should allow BLM to more efficiently make headway in cleaning up the legacy wells," Murkowski said. "I'm confident that over the next few years the bureau will be able to resolve many of the most pressing environmental issues stemming from the abandoned legacy wells."
Cribley said the significant amount of cleanup funds the bureau received this year should allow it to save money on the cost of getting cleanup crews and drilling rigs to the well sites, enough that it should be able to complete work on more than the 16 highest priority wells listed in its recent five-year strategic plan.
Murkowski and Cribley also discussed BLM's progress in resolving land conveyances owed by the federal government to both state and Alaska Native organizations. Murkowski was instrumental in the appropriations process in obtaining $22 million in funding for the Alaska Land Conveyance program that will be critical to fulfilling the promise the federal government made to Alaskans more than 40 years ago.
"I know all too well how long it can take the federal government to get things done, but four decades of waiting by Alaskans is enough," Murkowski said. "I'm optimistic, though, that this will be the year BLM is able to finally make good on these land conveyances. We've done our part. It's time for them to do theirs."
Murkowski is Alaska's senior senator and the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.