Monday, July 9, 2012

ConocoPhillips to give well sites Susie, Nora natural makeovers

—Wesley Loy
Petroleum News

ConocoPhillips is planning to put its green thumb to work this summer on a pair of old drilling sites on Alaska’s North Slope.

The company is seeking state authorization to fertilize and seed the sites as part of a land rehabilitation effort.

Wildcat wells, one known as Susie and the other as Nora, were drilled on the sites in the late 1960s. Both were dry holes.

The sites are about 52 miles south and slightly west of Deadhorse, the support base for the North Slope oil fields.

ConocoPhillips has been working for some time to reclaim the sites and restore them to a natural condition.

The Susie site

The Susie site is about eight miles west of the Dalton Highway, the industrial road to the Slope.

Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission records indicate Atlantic Richfield Co., now part of ConocoPhillips, spudded the Susie Unit No. 1 exploratory well on Feb. 27, 1966, drilling to a total depth of 13,517 feet. The well was abandoned the following year.

The original Susie site featured a gravel pad, a gravel airstrip, a reserve pit and a possible flare pit.

Reserve pits once were used on the North Slope for disposal of drilling muds and cuttings. Now different disposal methods are used, such as injecting waste below ground, and years of effort has gone into cleaning up old reserve pits.

The Susie reserve pit was on a list of inactive reserve pits ConocoPhillips and BP were obliged to close under the Charter for Development of the Alaskan North Slope. The 1999 charter included environmental and other commitments the companies made to the state in conjunction with the ARCO merger.

Certain “corrective actions” were completed at the Susie site during the winter of 2010-11, says a rehabilitation plan ConocoPhillips submitted to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

The actions included hauling debris off the site; pumping water out of the reserve pit and then filling it with gravel and topsoil; filling in the flare pit; and cutting off the wellhead at least three feet below tundra grade, in compliance with AOGCC regulations.

Fertilizing and seeding

The Susie site is now largely grown over with a variety of plant species, including willow shrubs, the rehab plan says. The airstrip is “hardly visible today due to vegetation growth.”

The berm around the reserve pit was breached sometime between 1989 and 2001, and as a result the pit was “hydrologically connected with the natural tundra ponds directly to the north and south of the pit,” the plan says.

Two 55-gallon drums were found underwater in the flare pit, it says.

“The goal of the rehabilitation at Susie is to return the site to its natural setting as much as is practical, while providing a substantial vegetated cover on the reserve pit cap and flare pit cap to promote stabilization, and prevent erosion and surface water ponding,” the rehab plan says.

Following the corrective actions in the winter of 2010-11, the site was allowed to stabilize for a season to prepare it for the next step.

This summer, workers plan to use a hand-crank spreader to apply fertilizer to the site, about 200 pounds per acre.

The site also will be seeded with arctic alkali grass, “an indigenous perennial that colonizes easily and rapidly,” the rehab plan says. Gravel substrate areas might be seeded with forbs, herbaceous plants that are not grasses.

The site will be monitored through 2021 with additional treatments applied as needed, the plan says.

The Nora site

ARCO spudded the Nora Federal No. 1 wildcat on March 31, 1969, AOGCC records show. The well was drilled to a total depth of 17,658 feet, but tested as a dry hole and was plugged and abandoned in 1970.

The site, about four miles east of Susie, had a gravel pad, two reserve pits and a gravel airstrip.

Nora also was on the charter list for reserve pit closure.

As with Susie, a number of corrective actions were completed at Nora during the winter of 2010-11, including removal of gravel and soil from part of the pad and the entire airstrip.

The Nora site likewise will be fertilized and seeded.

Fertilizer will be hauled to the drill sites by helicopter, the rehab report says.

DNR, in a June 22 public notice, said it intended to authorize the fertilizing and seeding work pending a public comment period that closed June 27.

This won’t be the first time for seeding at the Nora site. It happened before many years ago, according to an old DNR memo found in AOGCC’s files.

Nora was among wells that were on federal leases originally, with the land subsequently patented to the state.

The memo dated June 4, 1976, detailed a DNR official’s visit to the Nora site for an “abandonment inspection.”

The memo discussed cleanup and restoration activity at the site, and noted that federal officials had been particularly concerned about a spot “northeast of the old pit area where an overflow of fuel oil spilled out onto the tundra and had been burned off.”

The area was reseeded with good results, the memo said.