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BP races to shut Alaska North Slope well after finding a leak

[NEW YORK] BP Exploration Alaska Inc is trying to close off a well on Alaska's frigid North Slope after a leak was discovered Friday morning.

The well, located in the Greater Prudhoe Bay area, is venting gas, which caused a spray of crude oil to impact the well pad, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement on Saturday. The volume of the leak hasn't been determined, the US Environmental Protection Agency said.

The safety valve at the top of the well has stopped one leak, but a second leak from the bottom continued as of Saturday afternoon. Based on aerial pictures, the release appears to be contained to the gravel pad surrounding the well head and hasn't reached the surrounding tundra, BP said in a statement.

Crews are on site and working to shut down the well, BP spokesman Brett Clanton said Sunday. Temperatures in the area are about -11 deg C.

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The leak comes as the remote North Slope, once home to America's biggest oilfields, enjoys a resurgence as producers work to boost output from aging wells and extend their reach to new supplies.

North Slope production rose to 565,000 barrels a day in March, its highest level since December 2013. It's another sign, along with multibillion-barrel discoveries in recent months, that the area may be reversing decades of declining volumes and investment.

A full assessment of the affected area will be made and remediation plans developed once it's secured, BP said. Responders were unsuccessful on Friday night due to damage to a pressure gauge. There have been no injuries and no reports of harm to wildlife.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co's Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which runs from Prudhoe Bay south to Valdez, isn't affected by this incident and is operating normally, Michelle Egan, a company spokeswoman, said by telephone Sunday. Alyeska is a joint partnership led by the North Slope's top producers, BP Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp and ConocoPhillips.]