Corps of Engineers plans more work at Umiat

Posted: Friday, June 27, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The Army Corps of Engineers on Friday began a public comment period for further environmental cleanup of oil wells at Umiat on the North Slope.

The cleanup plan addresses contamination associated with 10 wells and surrounding areas, along with the former Umiat Air Station once used as a refueling stop for military planes.

Umiat is about 150 miles southeast of Barrow. The nearest village, Nuiqsut, is roughly 70 miles to the northwest.

More than 100 old test wells pepper the North Slope.

Two aging sites in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska posed a looming threat as erosion along the Colville River slowly moved closer to improperly plugged and abandoned wells. That risk spurred a roughly $25 million cleanup effort, paid for through a Department of Defense program and expected to end this summer or early fall.

Environmental officials said the river could have broken the well casings or swept over the wells and contaminated fresh water.

''You'd have a direct connect from the oil field into the river,'' said Tamar Stephens, an environmental specialist for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The Corps of Engineers planned to distribute copies of the additional cleanup plans Friday. The plans will be available for public review for 30 days, with a meeting July 16 in Nuiqsut.

The Navy drilled 11 wells in the 1940s and '50s in an area that was then part of the Naval Petroleum Reserve-4.

The new cleanup plans address a well where soil sampling has confirmed PCBs. Future cleanup plans also will address the Umiat landfill, Umiat Lake, Umiat Test Well No. 1, which is believed to contain barium in unused drilling mud.

The plan calls for no action on some wells where there is little contamination and cleanup would be both costly and damaging to the tundra.

Earlier cleanups at Umiat included the removal in 1994 of about 1,000 drums, some with petroleum, and transformer oil with PCBs from the main gravel pad and the 1998 removal of 200 yards of PCB-tainted soil. The No. 2 and 5 wells project included excavating 30,000 tons of soil contaminated by petroleum. The soil was transported on an ice road to the main Umiat gravel pads to be thermally treated in a rotary kiln.

The Umiat project hasn't been without a few hitches. A fire earlier this month destroyed several buildings at the settlement, delaying work for more than a week.

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