A regional Alaska Native corporation has started building a road and drilling pad in its hunt for natural gas to lower energy prices in the Copper River Basin, and possibly other areas of the state as well.

The construction will allow Ahtna Inc. to drill an exploration well starting in April about 11 miles west of company headquarters in Glennallen.

The drilling will take place under a state exploration program designed to encourage wildcatting in little-explored areas of the state, outside the known oil and gas provinces of the North Slope and Cook Inlet. The mid-Alaska region has been nicknamed "Middle Earth."

The geology of the Copper River Basin shares similarities with the Cook Inlet region, according to a media statement from Ahtna announcing the company's plans.

"We are optimistic of a resource discovery that will help address the rural energy crisis in the Ahtna region. A substantial discovery would benefit not only the Ahtna region, but the state at large," Michelle Anderson, Ahtna president, said in a prepared statement.

Ahtna, with 1,900 Native shareholders, will build a 4-acre drilling pad connected by gravel road to the Glenn Highway.

The company plans to drill the Tolsona No. 1 test well about 5,000 feet deep using a Saxon drilling rig owned by Schlumberger.

A staging area will be located about two miles away, at a site where an exploration well was drilled about a decade ago by Texas-based independent Rutter and Wilbanks. The well found gas and high-pressure zones of water that caused the effort to be abandoned.

Ahtna will have "specialized equipment available onsite to help mitigate such issues," the company said. It plans to complete the well by early May and demobilize by the end of June, leaving a gravel road and pad that will provide "recreational access" to the Tolsona area, the company said.

The Tolsona effort began six years ago. In 2014, Ahtna determined that the prospect was "very positive" after conducting seismic tests and reviewing existing data.