Fairweather bets on growth of Slope work, plans expansion


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An aerial view of the Fairweather Deadhorse Aviation Center on the North Slope.

Courtesy Fairweather LLC

Fairweather LLC has plans to expand its North Slope support facilities at the Deadhose Airport, adding personnel living quarters and industrial warehouse space to an aviation and medical service center the company opened in August.

Despite uncertainties over future North Slope work, Fairweather decided to take the plunge and invest, a gamble that offshore exploration by Shell and onshore drilling by explorers will result in discoveries and new activity, said Lori Davey, Fairweather’s director of marketing.

“We have a lot of faith in the industry. If Shell is successful offshore, or ConocoPhillips and Statoil, it could be huge,” Davey said.

Deadhorse is well positioned to support work in the Beaufort Sea and east of Prudhoe Bay, where ExxonMobil is developing the Point Thomson field, or to the west where Repsol and Brooks Range Petroleum are exploring and developing new fields.

Fairweather isn’t overly concerned about a competitive support base someday being built at Barrow or Wainwright to support the Chukchi Sea.

“Deadhorse is 200 miles further east, but what we have going for us is year-around public road access,” via the Dalton Highway, she said.

Fairweather is also doing work for Shell and its support contractors on the western North Slope.

What the company has built at Deadhorse so far is the Deadhorse Aviation Center, which includes a 20,000-square foot hanger, 11,000 square feet of office space, cargo-handling and transfer, and 24 bedrooms with single baths and facilities for dining and other support, Davey said.

The facility is owned by Fairweather LLC, Offshore Support Services, LLC, a subsidiary of Louisiana-based Edison Chouest, and Kaktovik Inupiat Corp., the village corporation for Kaktovik, an Inupiat community on Barter Island east of Prudhoe Bay.

“We’re doing very well with the aviation center,” Davey said. “Our hanger is rented out, as are the bedrooms and the office space. We could use more business for the cargo and terminal,” but that will come, she said.

A trauma medical clinic in the facility designed to support remote medical emergencies, a service Fairweather specializes in, is also being used.

Fairweather doesn’t operate emergency medical evacuation flights but supports aviation companies which do, she said. Medical personnel in the facility are linked to Providence Hospital in Anchorage.

Because it is located on the state-owned Deadhorse Airport, property tenants at the Deadhorse Aviation Center must be aviation-related, and while the outlook is for growth in aviation services on the Slope, the critical need is for more general support for contractors and service companies, Davey said.

With that need in mind, Fairweather has leased state acreage adjacent to the Deadhorse Aviation Center, but off the state’s airport premises, so that facilities can be built to serve tenants not related to aviation.

The first tract leased by Fairweather on the airport property was seven acres, and this support the Deadhorse Aviation Center. The second parcel leased was 10.4 acres just off the airport property, and this is now slated for development for new hotel and warehouse facilities.

A third 13-acre parcel leased that has not yet been developed will be a site for a future large aviation hanger big enough to support a C-130 aircraft. Davey said the large hanger project will be built when the demand justifies it.

The most critical need now, however, is for bed space, and Fairweather intends to build facilities a step above the basic facilities offered for rent in older camps at Deadhorse, with not just single rooms but attached single bathrooms.

Phase one of the expansion will involve facilities with 120 to 140 beds, depending on need, and 4,000 square feet of new office space. Fairweather is meeting with firms who could provide design/build services for these, and Davey hopes that these can be built in 2013 and open in the later part of the year.

Phase two could involve additional bedrooms or it could be warehouse space, for which there is also a big need. If built as warehouses, units could be about 2,300 square feet with large doors suitable for drive-thru service.

Davey said Fairweather is serving customers, mostly contractors and service firms, who may not be doing work for the major field operators, BP and ConocoPhillips, and who therefore are not able to use facilities built and owned by those companies within the oil fields.

The company is also aiming at longer-stay tenants.

“We are not in the hotel business. There are other facilities at Deadhorse, such as the Prudhoe Bay Hotel and Aurora Hotel, who offer short-term stay services,” Davey said.

For longer-stay customers it’s also important to have higher quality rooms. Professional workers and technicians on longer-term assignments for employers on the North Slope, and who will work out of Deadhorse, will put up with lower quality accommodations for a short period but not for long stays, Davey said.

Medevac support is an important part of the function of the aviation center. The clinic there allows for patients to be transported into a heated ambulance bay, treated in a trauma room and loaded into a medevac aircraft without leaving the building.

The clinic also has 24-hour telemedicine consultation with Providence Hospital, which allows for X-rays, EKGs and lab specimens to be digitized and sent to Providence via the internet before decisions are needed to medevac or do local treatment.

The medical clinics maintained by BP and ConocoPhillips at Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk are similar, but Fairweather’s clinic is available for injured workers or others not affiliated with the operations of those companies.

With more companies working on the slope, including explorers like Repsol, Brooks Range Petroleum and others, having these kinds of services available to the public is increasingly important, Davey said.

 

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

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