Energy companies pursuing a proposed trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline have been conducting summer field surveys along the line's probable northern corridor between Livengood and Prudhoe Bay.
Crews are sampling fish in rivers and streams, and documenting archaeological or other cultural resources. They're also assessing lakes that could supply water in winter for pipeline construction activities, such as laying ice roads and pads.
Partners in the field work include ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips and TransCanada.
About 135 people are involved in the field work, including those actually in the field plus support and office staff, ExxonMobil spokeswoman Kim Jordan said Aug. 21.
The proposed project would move the massive, stranded gas reserves on Alaska's North Slope about 800 miles to an undetermined point along the state's southern coast. There, the gas would be liquefied and loaded aboard specialized tankers for delivery to domestic or foreign markets.
The four energy companies haven't made any firm decision to actually build the project, however, and the field work doesn't mean construction is assured.
In fact, such field work has been done before for Alaska gas line projects that never materialized.
The LNG project now envisioned has the backing of Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, who has publicly exhorted the companies to pursue it.
The field surveys are a prerequisite for any project to move forward.
"The summer field work is a key activity to support the project's engineering, design and cost estimation work while also gathering data required for permitting the project," ExxonMobil's Steve Butt, the senior project manager, said in June when the field work began.
The LNG project would be a hugely expensive and risky venture. The energy companies estimate it would cost $45 billion to more than $65 billion.
The four companies have been working jointly since March 2012, and expect their spending to approach $100 million by the end of 2013.
The field studies are focusing on the 400-mile stretch between Livengood, in the state's Interior, and Prudhoe Bay. Aspects of the field work also extend east to Point Thomson, a rich gas field ExxonMobil is now beginning to develop. Point Thomson gas is expected to be an important contributor to the LNG project.
Larry Persily, the federal coordinator for Alaska natural gas transportation projects, said the companies likely are focusing the field studies on the northern half of the pipeline route because the southern half is uncertain.
That's because the gas liquefaction plant could be built at either Valdez or in Cook Inlet, he said.
The energy companies on Aug. 15 flew a handful of state legislators, and some legislative staffers, to northern Alaska to see the field work firsthand.
The chartered airplane landed at the Prospect Creek airport, near Pump Station 5 of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, then the group traveled in vans up the Dalton Highway to Coldfoot, said Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, co-chair of the House Resources Committee.
The group met with survey crews, and also heard from Butt, the project manager, Feige said.
The field work is typical of that required for any major resource development project, he said.
"They're out there doing what is required by the laws in the state," Feige said.
Other legislators making the field trip included Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage; Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel; Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage; and Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage.
The energy companies are employing major contractors URS and Paragon Partners on the field work.
The field activity is scheduled to be completed by Labor Day, said Jordan, the ExxonMobil spokeswoman.