Companies gear up for winter drilling season

Kay Cashman

The upcoming winter oil exploration drilling season on Alaska's North Slope is shaping up to be busier than last winter, but with fewer companies involved -- four versus six.

However, the total exploration well count during the coming short winter season will likely be higher -- somewhere between 10 and 20 oil wells compared to the seven that were completed last winter.

Repsol, Brooks Range Petroleum, Linc Energy and UltraStar Exploration all plan exploration drilling onshore or near shore on the North Slope this winter.

One of the companies not drilling an exploration well this winter, Pioneer Natural Resources, plans to drill an appraisal well, the Nuna No. 2, based on last year's successful drilling of the Nuna No. 1 exploration well. The company wants to shore up the resource for a proposed Nuna development plan, which it will submit to Pioneer's management committee. That committee will decide whether to sanction Nuna development.

Another dropout from last year's winter exploration drilling, Conoco Phillips, recently announced an oil find at its Shark Tooth prospect on the fringe of the Kuparuk unit, which it drilled this past winter.

The company declined to offer details about the results of the Shark Tooth No. 1 well, but a notice on its website says, "This area is being evaluated to assess further development potential."

Another company, Brooks Range Petroleum, is moving forward this winter with development of a discovery at its Mustang prospect in its Southern Miluveach unit, adjacent to the Kuparuk River unit. That find was confirmed with an exploration well last winter. Mustang is expected to be in production in early 2014, with peak production of 14,000 barrels of oil a day reached in 2016.

The company also plans at least one exploration well in its Tofkat unit.

Two other companies, Linc and UltraStar, did not drill last winter but plan to drill this winter.

Savant Alaska drilled an exploration well last winter, but appears to have no plans to do any exploration drilling this winter.

Excluded from the well and company counts for both North Slope winter exploration seasons is Great Bear, the company exploring the possibility of oil production on the North Slope using the hydraulic fracturing techniques in source rocks that have proved so successful elsewhere in North America.

Unlike other North Slope onshore and near shore explorers, Great Bear is able to drill year-round because its first six proposed test wells are in an existing transportation corridor of the Dalton Highway and the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

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