A pair of North Slope independents say a third-party consultant has confirmed the possibility of oil at their prospects, but the estimated amount is wide-ranging -- between 18 million barrels of oil and 325 million barrels -- and the site has yet to be proven up with drilling.
State officials reacted to the announcement from Royale Energy and Rampart Energy with guarded optimism. "It's very good news," said Bill Barron, director of the Division of Oil and Gas. "We're excited about the opportunity for them to put a bit in the ground this winter and get some real data that's tangible from cores and logs and well-tests and whatever else they want to do."
Independent consultant Netherland, Sewell and Associates said the best-case estimate is 77 million barrels of oil at two of the companies' prospects, located about 15 miles southwest of the village of Nuiqsut. If proven reserves are that high, the field would be relatively small, but still significant for a state in need of increased oil production to pay the bills.
State lands in the area have not been explored with three-dimensional seismic studies that provide a sharper view of the underground resource than the two-dimensional analysis done more commonly in the past. Barron said it's also exciting that independent oil companies are pioneering the work.
With North Slope elephant fields Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk increasingly running dry, explorers like Rampart and Royale are hoping to discover pools overlooked by oil giants such as BP, Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips.
But while oil might be found, one of the biggest questions is whether discoveries will be large enough to prove economic.
"First they have to confirm a discovery by drilling a discovery well that's logged and tested so you demonstrate that you have produceable, mobile, discoverable hydrocarbons," said Paul Decker, resource evaluation manager for the division.
Rampart has said it has contracted a rig and is working to raise the funds to drill two wells this winter.
Contact Alex DeMarban at email@example.com.
By ALEX DeMARBAN