ConocoPhillips faces potential fine of $914,000 for Arctic gas leak

an oil facility in a remote, snowy area
ConocoPhillips’ Alpine facility on the North Slope. (Elizabeth Harball/AED)

State regulators are proposing a $914,000 fine to punish ConocoPhillips for a gas leak last year at its Alpine drill site on the North Slope.

The oil company was drilling a well in March of 2022 when workers noticed gas emissions hundreds of feet away, including from fractures in the surface of the gravel drill pad. A concrete barrier intended to contain well pressure had cracked.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission later determined that Conoco had underestimated the gas production potential of one zone the well went through. And then, shortly before the underground blowout, workers had pumped in freeze-protection fluids that briefly over-pressurized the well, beyond allowable limits.

Compounding the company’s faults, the operator failed to submit regulatory paperwork.

The incident was a black eye for ConocoPhillips, and it occurred just as the Biden administration was considering whether to allow the company to develop its highly controversial Willow project, just 30 miles away.

The leak at Alpine continued for days before workers got control of it. It took more than three weeks to stop the flow at the source. The total amount emitted was roughly equivalent to the annual gas consumption of a small city subdivision.

A company spokeswoman says Conoco is reviewing the investigative findings and proposed civil fine. The company can request a review or a hearing if it chooses to contest AOGCC’s determinations.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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