Slope, Cook Inlet winter drill seasons underway


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Winter exploration drilling on the North Slope is starting, with Repsol beginning work on three North Slope winter exploration wells near the Alpine field west of Prudhoe Bay and near the Kuparuk River field.

There’s new exploration underway in south Alaska, too, with Buccaneer Energy started now on a gas exploration well east of Homer, the company announced.

Most exploration begins on the North Slope in late January and this winter will be busy with Repsol, ConocoPhillips and Linc Energy all drilling test wells at remote sites. Exploration drilling is done only in the winter in northern Alaska because ice and snow roads can be built to remote well sites.

Repsol’s program is similar to its exploration programs over the past two winters, spokeswoman Trish Baker said, and is in the same area of the west-central North Slope.

Linc Energy, an Australia-based independent, has also mobilized its drill rig at Umiat, in the southeast National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, or NPR-A. The company plans one to three horizontal test wells in its second year of test drilling at a known shallow oil deposit at Umiat.

Linc now expends to begin drilling in early February, company spokesman Paul Ludwig said. “Warm weather has pushed our snow and ice road building back a little,” which has delayed the start of drilling, he said.

ConocoPhillips also plans two exploration wells in the NPR-A in areas west of the Alpine field, in a partnership with Anadarko Petroleum Corp.

Repsol made three discoveries on three wells the company drilled last winter and two of the wells planned this year, Q-5 and Q-7, are delineation wells aimed to get additional information on those discoveries, the company’s Alaska manager, Bill Hardham, said in an interview Jan. 24.

The wells will be drilled just south of two discovery wells from last winter, Q-1 and Q-6, which are in the Colville River delta east of the producing Alpine field.

Flow tests were done on the two wells last year, and flow tests are planned on the two delineation wells set for this winter, Hardham said. A third discovery well drilled last year, Q-3, was not flow-tested.

Another well planned this winter, Tuttu No. 1, is an exploration well planned to be drilled inland and to the east, near the Kuparuk River field.

Repsol is using three rigs on its winter program, all operated by Nabors Alaska Drilling. The project includes 30 miles of winter ice roads to the locations from existing year-around roads in the Kuparuk field as well an ice airstrip, Hardham said.

North Slope explorers have to build ice roads each winter, a major expense. In 2013 Repsol built 38 miles of ice roads; in 2012 the company built 48 miles.

Repsol is exploring 700,000 acres of state oil and gas leases. Armstrong Oil and Gas, of Denver, is a 22.5 percent partner in the onshore acreage, with GMT Exploration owning 7.5 percent.

The company also holds offshore Outer Continental Shelf leases in the Beaufort Sea in partnership with Shell and Eni, as well as in the Chukchi Sea OCS, where the leases are 100 percent Repsol.

Linc drilled at Umiat, in the NPR-A, last winter and stored the rig, operated by Kuukpik Drilling Co., over the summer. The project is being supported this winter by a 101-mile snow road built to Umiat from the Dalton Highway, a year-around industrial road the connects the North Slope oilfields with Interior Alaska.

Umiat’s oil was discovered decades ago by U.S. government-sponsored drill crews. The deposit was shallow and of very good quality oil but too small to merit development. Linc believes it can exploit the deposit with new horizontal drilling production technology and also expand the known resources. 

Winter exploration provides a big boost for service companies in Alaska, and activity levels this winter by Repsol and other companies may stretch the availability of skilled oil workers. ExxonMobil Corp. is also engaged in construction and pipeline building to the new Point Thomson gas and condensate field east of Prudhoe Bay, with over 700 employed there this winter.

Hardham said Repsol’s drilling program will employ about 350 but the company is also planning two winter seismic programs, by SA Exploration and Global Geophysical, that will employ about 100 people each. The company’s total winter workforce will be around 500, he said.

In the Cook Inlet Basin, Buccaneer Energy has finally started drilling its West Eagle natural gas exploration well east of Homer. The rig has been at the site for some time, but financing problems with a former partner delayed the start of operations. Drilling began Jan. 22, with the well planned to reach a depth of 8,500 feet. The location is 21 miles east of Homer, and has road access.

Tim Bradner can be reached at  tim.bradner@alaskajournal.com.

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