FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Nabors Alaska Drilling Inc. failed to immediately report a 672 gallon spill of hazardous drilling mud in the North Slope Sunday, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said.
The spill, which consisted of drilling mud and mud cuttings, occurred while Nabors Alaska was working on a Kuparuk oil field exploration well for Phillips Alaska.
The DEC considers drilling mud hazardous because it contains a biocide. The spill, however, was contained to a gravel pad and did not cause any harm to the environment.
''Nabors Alaska is on a learning curve,'' Amanda Stark, a DEC spill responder, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
''Technically, they are in violation, but we're not trying to be the bad guys here. We're trying to work with them.''
Stark said the company should have reported the call to the DEC's 24-hour spill emergency line.
Instead the company faxed a report into the agency's Fairbanks office within an hour and a half of the spill on Sunday believing the mud was nonhazardous, said Clyde Treybig of Nabors Alaska. DEC staff didn't receive the report until Monday.
''It was a misunderstanding,'' Treybig said from Nabors Alaska's Anchorage office.
Drilling mud contains a biocide that kills bacteria that live off nutrients in the mud. Some dead bacteria produces a toxic gas as it decomposes, while other dead bacteria emits noxious odors.
For every 48,000 gallons of mud, 30 gallons of the biocide is used, according to Randy Bovee, Nabors Alaska environmental manager.
The spill occurred when corrosion ate a metal pipe on a pumping unit, Treybig said. He said some mud remains under the drilling rig and will be removed once the drill is moved to another drill site in Kuparuk in a couple of weeks.
DEC is currently negotiating with North Slope oil companies for pre-approval of cleanup procedures for spills of a limited nature that occur on gravel pads and ice roads, said Ed Meggert, supervisor of DEC's northern office for spill response.
''It's just for operational spills,'' Meggert said. ''When you're drilling and stuff, stuff spills.
However, drilling mud would still be considered hazardous, and failure to report spills is punishable by jail time and fines, Meggert said.
Nabors Alaska won't be formally charged, according to Stark.
''If this same violation happens again, we could penalize them,'' she said.
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