BP workforce in flux as sale to Hilcorp awaits closing

Alex DeMarban

Dozens of BP employees face uncertainty tied to the oil giant’s pending sale of a portion of its North Slope assets to Hilcorp, though the large majority of workers affected by the deal have been offered jobs by the small independent producer that has made aggressive moves in Alaska.  

About 250 BP employees were associated with assets involved in the $1.5 billion sale, announced in April when BP said it would divest all or part of its interests in four Arctic fields atop the state.

Hilcorp Alaska has extended employment offers to about 200 of those workers, officials said.

That leaves about 50 employees, said Dawn Patience, a spokeswoman with BP Exploration Alaska. BP has offered those workers a chance to look for other jobs within the company, both in Alaska and elsewhere in the world.

She added that BP has agreed to rehire some of those employees, though she did not know how many.  

BP Exploration Alaska, which operates the nation’s largest conventional oil field at Prudhoe Bay, employs 2,300 people directly, not counting contractors.

All the workers involved in the divestiture will stay with BP until after the sale closes, which is expected to happen by early next year, Patience said.

“We want to have a safe operation,” she said. “We want things running smoothly until the new operator takes over, so we want everyone in place.”

An official with Hilcorp Alaska said the company will enter the North Slope like it entered Cook Inlet, where it has recently helped revive sagging production numbers after buying assets from Union Oil Company of California and Marathon Oil Corp.

“In both Cook Inlet acquisitions we hired and continue to employ the vast majority of field personnel,” said Lori Nelson, manager of external affairs for Hilcorp Alaska, in an email. “Since then, we have maintained a stable and growing workforce to support safe and responsible development. “

While about 200 BP employees have been offered jobs, she added that the final headcount remains a work in progress.

“We continue to assess our needs and will be working to get fully staffed by the official acquisition date,” she said, which Hilcorp hopes will happen before the end of the year. Hilcorp will “continue to make the employees a priority during this time and we are working together to ensure everyone is treated fairly.” 

BP’s proposed sale involves all of its interests in two fields -- Endicott and Northstar -- and half its interest in two other fields, Milne Point and Liberty.

Liberty, located on federal leases 6 miles offshore in the Beaufort Sea, is the only one of those four fields that is not already developed and producing. BP expects to submit a plan of development to federal regulators later this year, said Patience.  

The oil produced in the three other fields represents 15 percent of BP’s net production in Alaska, which was 140,000 barrels in 2012.

Asked if BP has planned any downsizing unrelated to the sale, Patience said there is uncertainty in Alaska associated with the Aug. 19 vote over the repeal of the oil tax structure known as Senate Bill 21 or the More Alaska Production Act.

“There are none planned but there are a lot of uncertainties right now,” she said of the possibility of downsizing. “I can’t tell you what will happen in a month or two months or at the end of the year.”

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex@alaskadispatch.com.