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In a first, Alaska releases ‘huge amount of data’ to lure new oil explorers

For the first time, Alaska officials have released a trove of exploration data to attract new companies to the North Slope oil fields, including valuable seismic surveys unveiled as part of the state's tax credit program.

The online report, rolled out last week, offers access to an unprecedented collection of data gathered from earlier exploration efforts, said Mark Wiggin, state Natural Resources deputy commissioner. He said the information would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to gather today.

The data targets three sites on the North Slope. The state wants to entice companies to bid on leases in the areas, in a special sale to be held later this year.

The sale will likely take place alongside the state's annual December lease sale that offers oil companies a chance to lease available state land on the North Slope, Wiggin said.

"This is the type of information that gets landmen to lean forward and say, 'Now you're talking,'" said Wiggin, referring to officials who pursue leases for energy companies.

"We've never done anything like this before," he said. "It's a huge amount of data."

Ideally, companies will use the information to find overlooked oil deposits, such as the huge Pikka discovery announced in 2015 that Oil Search is working to develop.

"The hope is there will be more discoveries and ultimately more royalties paid to the state," said Kevin Frank, a state petroleum geologist and part of the team that worked on the project for a year.

With scores of links, the report provides one-stop shopping for decades of details about numerous wells, leases and reservoir quality, including wells where oil or gas was found. That publicly available information was largely spread across different Alaska agencies and their websites, and would take an oil company months to collect, Wiggin said.

A critical component is the newly-released reports of seismic surveys over the three special areas, Wiggin said.

The surveys, providing details of underground rock formations, can be released a decade after they were completed by exploration companies, under a requirement of the state's cash tax credit program. The tax credits have largely been phased out.

Dozens more seismic reports covering other areas of the North Slope are expected to be released in the coming years as deadlines are triggered under the law.

The areas to be offered in the special lease sale are:

• At Harrison Bay, just north of the large, on-shore fields now being developed by ConocoPhillips in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

• At Gwydyr Bay, north of the Prudhoe Bay oil field.

• At an area called Storms, an inland region south of Prudhoe Bay.

The report is called Special Alaska Lease Sale Areas. It's available by typing the acronym SALSA into the search bar on the state Oil and Gas division's home web page.

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