AD Main Menu

Draft environmental study heralds Point Thomson progress

Amanda Coyne
Photo courtesy of ExxonMobil

At long last, a draft environmental impact statement, or EIS, has been completed on the proposed development by Exxon Mobil Corp. and PTE Pipeline LLC at Point Thomson. The EIS was prepared by the U.S. Corp of Engineers, which is the lead agency on the project. Because of comments by agencies in preparation of the public draft, and because Exxon had revised its production plans, the draft EIS is more than a year overdue.

The EIS is the first step to obtaining approval to develop the Point Thomson field, located on the Beaufort Sea shoreline, west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The field is thought to have 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas plus hundreds of millions of barrels of petroleum liquids. The site contains about one-quarter of all of the known natural gas resources on the North Slope.

First discovered in 1969, the challenging field has been the source of much tension with the state of Alaska throughout the years. Because Exxon Mobil hadn't developed the field, former Gov. Frank Murkowski began to rescind Exxon Mobil's leases in 2005, and then Gov. Sarah Palin took up the charge. It ended up in court -- and Alaska lost.

Because of the amount of gas in Point Thomson, the site's development is an integral part of the any natural gas pipeline, which might or might not be constructed. Gov. Sean Parnell has said that he's working on an agreement with Exxon related to the field, but has declined to give details. BP and ConocoPhillips also have an interest in the field and must sign off on any agreement. 

The lack of development has to do partly with the fact that there is no pipeline to Point Thomson, and also because the field's reservoir is several thousand feet deeper and under much higher pressure than others on the Alaska's North Slope. To produce gas and gas condensates from the field, Exxon will have to use high-pressure drilling and recovery techniques that have not been used on the North Slope.

The proposed project features include three pads for drilling and production of wells, with a central pad supporting production facilities, infield roads, pipelines, an airstrip, and a gravel mine site. A pipeline will be constructed for transporting the liquids 22 miles west to connect with the trans-Alaska pipeline.

The EIS draft is here. Comments have to be in by close of business day Jan. 3, 2012.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com