Feige aims to put welcome mat out for explorers
When producing companies and hopeful oil explorers stop by the state Division of Oil and Gas these days they find the welcome mat laid out by Corri Feige, the division’s new director.
Feige took over the division in late April following the departure of Bill Barron, the previous director.
For those firms new to the state and particularly small companies, Feige wants to ensure they understand the state’s regulatory landscape and permitting requirements, as she wears the mantle of chief state oil and gas lease administrator. But she also wants to help the companies navigate the system and to succeed.
She is going a step further than past oil and gas directors, in fact, by talking with the explorers’ financiers, such as private equity firms, to help pitch Alaska and its prospectivity for new oil and gas finds. In some cases the financiers are calling on Feige. In other cases she takes the initiative and calls them.
Investors, typically equity firms, have visited Feige to sound her out on prospective ventures.
“I also have been reaching out to them. I want them to understand that there are ways to de-risk projects, and people here (in the Department of Natural Resources) have a lot of experience in doing that and can advise,” she said in an interview.
Feige is sensitive to explorers’ concerns because she comes from that side of the industry with a 28-year career as a geophysicist and engineer, on company staffs and in management, and as a consultant. Virtually all of her time has been spent in exploration and development of remote projects, including minerals.
However, Feige keeps in mind the regulator side of her job, too. The welcome mat to her office is out, but she won’t be a doormat for companies either.
She grew up in Wyoming and has a degree in geophysical engineering from the Montana School of Mines and before coming to Alaska she worked as a geophysicist on exploration programs internationally, in Australia, the tropics, the Canadian Arctic, and South America.
She met her husband, Eric, at Aniak, on the upper Kuskowkim River, while working on a minerals exploration project. Eric Feige, a commercial pilot and former state legislator, was operating an air taxi service at the time.
A lot of Feige’s recent experience has been with unconventional oil and gas, an area where Alaska has great potential. She worked with Evergreen Resources on that company’s coal-bed methane project in Southcentral Alaska and went back to consulting when Evergreen was purchased by Pioneer Natural Resources and the Alaska coal-bed methane program was closed.
She spent time working on Alaska geothermal projects, too, including a drilling program undertaken by Naknek Electric Co., a rural utility, which ultimately proved unsuccessful.
Feige was working with GeoPetro, a consulting company, when it was acquired by Linc Energy, which was investigating a potential unconventional gas project in Southcentral Alaska, underground coal-bed gasification, which led to her joining Linc.
When Linc acquired North Slope leases at Umiat, an early, small oil discovery on the North Slope, Feige was tasked with managing the company’s initial exploration. Umiat is a remote site 100 miles west of the Dalton Highway — the nearest infrastructure — and the program proved challenging.
“I learned a lot about managing a complex logistics chain with 150 people, a 104-mile snow road and conditions of minus-64 degrees Fahrenheit that lasted for several days,” she said. “This showed me how difficult it can be to manage remote operations and the impact on the cost structure, particularly when you’re completely at the whim of Mother Nature.”
This experience, and perspective, is made available to explorers these days when they meet with Feige.
After helping get the Umiat project in place Feige went back to work on Linc Energy’s underground coal gasification program, or UCG. This involves a process of controlled combustion in the underground coal seam at produces a synthethis gas, a form of natural gas, which can be used in power generation or in gas-based product manufacturing.
Alaska has vast coal resources and the UCG process, which has been proven elsewhere including by Linc Energy, has good potential, but low prices for natural gas is now impeding the industry in North America.
“This will have its time,” when economic and technical challenges are overcome, Feige said, just as has happened with shale oil and gas in the Lower 48 states.
Many of the small companies calling on Feige these days have questions on the state’s exploration incentives and whether they can be maintained in tight budget times. These are questions that can be put to the Department of Revenue, which manages the incentives.
However, Feige’s group at the Oil and Gas Division, and others in the Department of Natural Resources, can advise companies on navigating the state’s land and environmental regulations as well as those with federal agencies like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“I am encouraging everyone to work with our OPMP (Office of Project Management and Permitting) group in the department. There’s a lot of institutional knowledge about the federal regulatory framework with (director) Sara Longan and her group,” Feige said.