Saturday, October 1, 2011

Explorers up from 5 to 7; Pioneer, Savant plan North Slope exploration wells; season could beat 1969 record

Kay Cashman
Petroleum News

Two more northern Alaska oil companies are planning to drill exploration wells in the coming year, bringing the total of on- and nearshore wells to 34, exceeding the record to date, which was 33 in 1969, when 33 exploration wells were drilled after the discovery of the giant Prudhoe Bay field.

The two new explorers are North Slope producers Pioneer Natural Resources Alaska, which is planning two wells in its Nuna development within the Oooguruk unit (see sidebar to this article), and Savant Alaska, which is looking at a well on the crest of its Red Wolf prospect in the Badami unit.

Two of the proposed 34 wells, which would be operated by UltraStar and Savant, could be delayed until next winter because the companies have not yet been able to secure drilling rigs. As of Sept. 22, Great Bear was also still shopping for a rig, but since it is probably looking to keep a rig and drill year round, it may have better luck securing one.

Following are the companies planning to drill exploration wells between November of this year and November of next:

• Brooks Range Petroleum: 1 rig, 2 wells

• Great Bear Petroleum: 1 rig, 8 wells

• Linc Energy (Renaissance Umiat): 1 rig, 5 wells

• Pioneer 1 rig, 2 wells

• Repsol: 5 rigs, 15 wells

• Savant 1 rig, 1 well

• UltraStar: 1 rig, 1 well

Great Bear is the exception

Normally, the North Slope off-road exploration season, which includes the nearshore Beaufort Sea, would start in December, with first drilling no sooner than January, and end sometime in April or May, depending on the condition of the tundra. No one can travel off-road on the North Slope unless the ground is sufficiently frozen and the snow is deep enough to protect the fragile Arctic tundra. (The exception is travel via one of the few tundra-certified vehicles designed for very low-pressure impact.)

But if Great Bear can secure the appropriate permits and authorizations, its wells will not require temporary winter roads and pads of snow and ice. Rather, the company will be able to place as many as six gravel drill sites along a 15-mile long stretch following the Dalton Highway and the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, chosen because the corridor is a previously disturbed, active industrial area with existing gravel roads and sites, thus minimizing the environmental impact of drilling — and, of course, providing year-round access, which is a standard in all source rock drilling operations in the United States and Canada.

According to the proposed plan of operations Great Bear filed in mid-September with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas, pad construction and gravel repair and conditioning work for its first drill pad would start in early to mid-November, with drilling to begin in mid-to-late November, and continue on and off for about 12 months. (See story in the Sept. 25 edition of Petroleum News.)

While the company has selected six drill site locations, which means it could drill 12 wells — six verticals and at least six laterals — Great Bear’s plan of operations says the possibility of drilling more than eight wells from four pads is remote.

Savant hopes to drill at Red Wolf

According to an article in this issue of Petroleum News (see page 6,) Savant said in its 9th Plan of Development for the eastern North Slope’s Badami unit, filed recently with the Division of Oil and Gas, that its proposed Red Wolf exploration well will target the Kekiktuk formation, which is the formation that contains the oil reservoir for the Endicott field west of Badami.

“We would like to drill the well this winter but as you know rigs are tight. We are working multiple fronts with respect to securing a rig,” Savant Vice President Greg Vigil told Petroleum News in an email Sept. 26.

Linc adds one well at Umiat

Linc Energy, the Australian independent that acquired controlling interest in Renaissance Alaska and therefore control of its subsidiary Renaissance Umiat, has said it was going to drill a minimum of four wells at the undeveloped Umiat oil field in the Brooks Range Foothills along the southeastern border of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

But on Sept. 23, a BLM permitting official told Petroleum News that Linc had told the agency it was looking at five wells.

Most of the permitting was already done by Renaissance in 2007. Linc is renewing one of the four drilling permits because it expires in January, and adding a fifth well, BLM said.

Anadarko conducts rig-less test

Also part of the upcoming exploration season are several seismic surveys and Anadarko Petroleum’s rig-less testing of its Chandler No. 1 gas well.

Seismic yields drilling opportunities for future exploration wells and Anadarko’s work could mean the big independent and its partners might resurrect their multiyear drilling program at the Gubik Complex on state, federal and Native acreage in the Brooks Range Foothills.

Inactive since 2009, Anadarko’s program was the first exploration effort in northern Alaska to explicitly target natural gas for other than local use.

The Gubik Complex contains the undeveloped Chandler, Gubik and Wolf Creek gas fields.

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Republished with the permission of the Petroleum News.