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Corps taking comments on big North Slope project proposing 146 wells

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: September 2, 2017
  • Published September 2, 2017

An independent oil company has made ambitious plans to produce oil from one of the three large discoveries that explorers have made in recent years on Alaska's North Slope.

Now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking comments on the project, which includes filling some federally protected wetlands.

Denver-based Armstrong Oil and Gas wants to drill up to 146 production and injection wells at its Pikka field, producing up to 120,000 barrels of oil daily, according to a permit application filed with the Corps.

The field could be Alaska's biggest oil producer since ConocoPhillips' Alpine development began producing oil 17 years ago. Peak production there reached 139,000 barrels of oil daily, in 2007.

Spanish oil company Repsol is a partner at Pikka, located east of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and about 7 miles northeast of Nuiqsut village.

The Army Corps on Friday released a draft environmental impact statement of the project, launching a 45-day public comment period.

Armstrong has named its effort Nanushuk, after a little-explored, relatively shallow reservoir the company is targeting. Over the decades, past North Slope oil companies have often overlooked the reservoir as they pursued deeper prospects.

"This whole region on the western end of existing oil fields is incredibly important to Alaska," said Commissioner Andy Mack of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. "It's shown … the most new promise we've seen in decades."

"We're pretty excited about the draft EIS," Mack said Friday in a telephone interview.

Nanushuk is squeezed between between two ConocoPhillips fields — Alpine to the west and Kuparuk River to the east. Being relatively close to existing pipelines and roads offers an advantage over more distant, remote prospects, Mack said.

The plan proposes construction of three drill sites and a 14-mile access road. A 22-mile pipeline would move sales-quality oil to market, connecting to facilities at the Kuparuk River field.

A processing facility would be built to remove water and gas from the crude oil. Injection wells will force those byproducts back underground to pressurize the reservoir and support more oil production. The company plans to build a 200-bed operations camp. Hundreds of other people will be involved in construction.

The Corps is reviewing the project under the National Environmental Policy Act. Armstrong is requesting permission to place 2.8 million cubic yards of fill material into 272 acres containing federal waters, including wetlands.

The Nanushuk and the related Torok reservoir have been the subject of heightened interest following the announcement of Armstrong's discovery in 2015.

In 2016, Caelus Energy heralded a large discovery in the Torok formation in Smith Bay at a project that awaits further exploration drilling and testing. And in January, ConocoPhillips announced another Nanushuk discovery, Willow, on its lease in the petroleum reserve, saying it could produce 100,000 barrels of oil daily.

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