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U.S. Department of the Interior
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East Teshekpuk Legacy Well Remediation Team

Bureau of Land Management, Alaska

Project Point of Contact

Wayne Svejnoha, BLM
Alaska Field Office, AK

Project Summary

Teshekpuk Lake and its surrounding lakes and coastal wetlands are widely recognized as the most productive, diverse and sensitive wetlands ecosystem in the American Arctic.  For example, 20,000 to 60,000 geese migrate there to molt each summer.  Caribou calving occurs there by the thousands.  The area provides subsistence resources for residents of seven North Slope villages.

The accelerated shoreline erosion of the East Teshekpuk Legacy Well site threatened to harm the Teshekpuk Lake ecosystem.  Solid waste, heavily contaminated drilling mud, and diesel fuel were about to start discharging into the lake.  Exposed metallic debris posed navigational hazards.

The first challenge was to secure $16 million dollars to remediate the site and avert an environmental disaster.  BLM-Alaska worked closely with the budget office to justify and secure the necessary funding to complete this project.  The second challenge was to design a contract package that allowed multi-year funding and the flexibility to accomplish the project in either one or two seasons.  The flexible contract resulted in a savings to the government of over $3 million and can be used as a model for upcoming winter remediation operations.

Once work was underway, extremely cold temperatures, often 45 degrees below zero, caused continual equipment breakdowns.  Then an unseasonable warming trend started closing access to the remote ice-accessible site.  By working closely with the contractor, the team adjusted work schedules and project work plan tasks, working around the clock at times, to deal with weather-related problems.  The team included Native communities and governments in meetings to provide updates.  Despite unexpected setbacks, the cleanup project successfully finished on time and under budget with zero safety incidents or injuries.  Together the BLM team and their Alaska Native-owned small business contractor, Marsh Creek, LLC, removed and recycled over 9,000 gallons of diesel and 225,000 pounds of scrap metal.  They removed over 1,500 cubic yards of contaminated drilling mud and 2,300 cubic yards of commingled material.

Mobilize 120 miles on Sea Ice and Tundra
Photo Caption: Mobilize 120 miles on Sea Ice and tundra.

Project Description

Need & Implementation

The East Teshekpuk Test Well #1 (a BLM Legacy Well site), located on a narrow peninsula on the eastern bank of Teshekpuk Lake, was drilled by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1976.  The site is approximately 103 miles southeast of Barrow, Alaska, and about 120 miles west of the oil industry support center of Deadhorse.

The site has been subject to accelerated erosion from wave action on Teshekpuk Lake. Along with surrounding smaller lakes and adjacent coastal wetlands, Teshekpuk Lake is widely recognized as the most productive, diverse and sensitive wetlands ecosystem in the American Arctic.  The compromised reserve pit threatened to release heavily contaminated drilling mud into the lake.  The exposed solid waste and metallic debris posed a navigational hazard.  Release of contaminants from this site would have constituted a clear violation of both the Clean Water Act and State of Alaska laws and regulations.

Ecological Significance of East Teshekpuk Lake

Teshekpuk Lake was designated as the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area (TLSA) in 1977.  The TLSA was designated primarily to protect important nesting, staging, and molting habitat for a large number of waterfowl.  From 20,000 to 60,000 non-breeding and sub-adult geese migrate to the area north and east of Teshekpuk Lake, which contains hundreds of smaller lakes, to molt in July and early August. The area also provides important habitat for the Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd.  Calving generally occurs to the areas northeast and southwest of Teshekpuk Lake.

Teshekpuk Lake provides over-wintering habitat for fish and breeding habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds and is an important resource for subsistence-based cultures in the region.  The goose molting area includes suitable habitats in and around Teshekpuk Lake; this area is the most important molting habitat in the Arctic for black brant, Canada geese, and greater white-fronted geese.  Up to 30 percent of the Pacific flyway population of brant molt in this area. Large populations of Canada geese, molting greater white-fronted geese, and snow geese were counted in recent years. Molting geese, which are highly sensitive to human disturbance, are present in the area from late June to mid-to-late August. This area also provides important breeding habitat for several species of shorebirds.

This area is important for subsistence resources and uses. Subsistence-related uses of natural resources play an important role in the subsistence economy and culture of many Native communities in the North Slope.  Residents from seven North Slope villages harvest caribou from the Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd, making that herd the most important on the North Slope for subsistence purposes.

Plugging the Well
Photo Caption: Plugging the well

Project Challenges

The first challenge was to secure $16 million dollars to remediate this site and avert an environmental disaster.  BLM-Alaska worked extremely closely with the BLM-Washington budget office and the Department of the Interior to justify, define and secure the necessary funding to complete this project.  The second challenge was to design a contract package that would allow for multi-year funding, along with the flexibility to accomplish the project in either one or two seasons.

The project needed to be completed during the winter season to minimize impacts to the tundra, provide site access and ensure adequate protection of wildlife resources in the area.  This timing meant operating in limited sunlight and extreme cold temperatures.  A self-sufficient camp was established to accommodate up to 40 workers for a period of almost 11 weeks.  An airstrip was constructed on the sea ice for re-supply and safety.

Seasonal drought conditions on the North Slope made fresh water availability for project infrastructure (ice roads, pads) construction a serious problem.  Many permitted lakes were either dry or impacted by salt water intrusion.  These conditions created a delay of nearly a month in the completion of the project's transportation infrastructure.  The team and contractor overcame this setback by finding and permitting alternative water sources and minimizing ice road construction by adjusting the alignment of the road and the right-of-way.  Approximately 18 miles of ice road was constructed to link the East Teshekpuk and North Kalikpik sites for the project.

Camp on the sea ice
Photo Caption: Camp on the Sea Ice

Extremely cold temperatures caused continual equipment breakdowns, including pieces key to project completion.  By working closely with the contractor, the team adjusted work schedules, for example, working two 12-hour shifts around the clock, to deal with weather-related problems or altering the project work plan tasks.

The last critical setback occurred during the closing stages of the project when a change in weather patterns caused an unseasonable warming trend.  This warming trend nearly caused an early tundra closure and directly impacted ice road stability and maintenance operations.  Because of this, there were additional safety concerns about whether or not the team could demobilize equipment and haul camp facilities back to Deadhorse on the sea ice.  Team members had to change their work schedules, ensure that no equipment or materials was stranded for the season, and that individual safety was not compromised.

Despite these unexpected setbacks, the cleanup project was successfully completed – on time and under budget – with no safety incidents or injuries.


There were a number of innovative approaches used in this project that were not only precedent-setting, but contributed to significant cost savings to the government.

With the overall cost of this project, it was difficult to develop a budget strategy and contract package to address all the intangible items and schedules.  Since this project was using multi-year funding, it was challenging to prepare a contract package to deal with budget and operational scenarios.  The contract package that was developed allowed for maximum flexibility through identification of milestones and phases and allowed the option of completing the project in one mobilization and field season, which resulted in a savings to the government of over $3 million.  This contract design can now be effectively used for other upcoming winter remediation operations.

This competitive contract was awarded to Marsh Creek, LLC, an Alaska Native-owned small business company from Kaktovik, Alaska.

The transport and disposal of drilling waste from such a remote site is both challenging and extremely costly.  The conventional approach is to transport the drilling mud offsite.  The closest landfill that could receive this waste is located in Deadhorse off-site, 120 miles away.  To reach this site would have entailed overland transport of the drilling mud or transport and interim storage of materials for barging at a later date.  The project leaders identified an alternative location that satisfied multiple objectives.  The team engineered and designed a disposal plan to place the drilling mud in the North Kalikpik site (another Legacy Well reserve pit).  This logical, but precedent-setting, plan required detailed pre-planning, environmental baseline studies, and close coordination with the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The team's plan provided several positive benefits, that is, 1) reduced the water surface area in the North Kalikpik reserve pit by 40 percent; 2) eliminated the threat of contamination for thousands of sensitive and protected species; and 3) reduced transport and disposal costs for the next priority Legacy Well site at Atigaru.  This was accomplished by incorporating the drilling mud into the engineering design and closure plan for the North Kalikpik reserve pit.  By placing the contaminated drilling waste in an engineered freeze-back cell, exposure to wildlife and waterfowl was limited.  The end result was a realization of savings of approximately $4.5 million, which included $750,000 on interim storage and management, $1.3 million on barging, and $2.5 million on backhaul of wastes during demobilization.

BLM-Alaska involved public in this project, and held local meetings with the Native communities and governments of the North Slope.  Presentations and updates were provided during the Alaska Resource Advisory Council public meeting.  Using an Alaska Native-owned qualified contractor to conduct the work created an important partnership that facilitated the smooth coordination and completion of this project.

Final grade North Kalikpik
Photo Caption: Final Grade North Kalikpik

Scope of Project Impact

This project demonstrated the BLM's commitment to resource management and protection of the environment.  By protecting the critical habitat of the resources it is entrusted to manage, this project demonstrated this agency's sensitivity to Alaska Native customary and traditional uses and lifestyles. The BLM's Arctic Field Office's diligent monitoring efforts of sites being impacted by changing climate conditions allowed BLM-Alaska to be responsive to changing land conditions as they impact government facilities.  BLM-Alaska is continually working to reduce environmental liability for the BLM and the Department of the Interior.

The design of the contract, project and disposal plans will serve as a template for future remediation efforts in the North Slope.

East Teskekpuk Team

  • Lon Kelly, Arctic Field Manager
  • Wayne Svejnoha, Project Manger
  • Susan Flora
  • Mike Kinz
  • Mike Worley
  • Greg Noble
  • Tom Zelenka
  • Tim Lawlor
  • Marsh Creek, LLC

A subsistence economy may be defined as "an economy in which the customary and traditional uses of fish, wildlife and plant resources contribute substantially to the social, cultural and economic welfare of families in the form of food, clothing, transportation and handicrafts.  Sharing of resources, kinship-based production, small-scale technology and the dissemination of information about subsistence across generational lines are additional characteristics."