Feds advance second big Alaska oil project in a week, recommend ConocoPhillips project

The Trump Administration on Thursday released a key permitting document for a big ConocoPhillips oil field in Alaska, the second such move in a week's time for a major North Slope oil project.

The Bureau of Land Management, in unveiling its environmental review for the Greater Mooses Tooth 2 project, recommended the oil company's plan over other alternatives, including no development. The report is 657 pages long, not including maps and other supplements.

The project calls for first oil in 2021, and peak production of 38,000 barrels daily by 2025, the report says. Of the options for development, the agency says the recommended plan would have the least impact on the environment and families dependent on subsistence hunting and fishing.

ConocoPhillips estimates the prospect will cost $1.5 billion to develop. 

"Responsible development of Greater Mooses Tooth will help keep our North Slope active and will bring much needed jobs to the local communities," Congressman Don Young said in a statement issued by BLM.

The drilling site would be located on federal land in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a 23-million acre area originally set aside nearly a century ago by President Warren Harding as an emergency oil supply for the U.S. Navy.

Recent oil discoveries in the reserve and near its boundaries have led to mounting interest in the region by oil companies, prompting concern from conservation groups trying to protect prized portions such as the Teshekpuk Lake area important for migrating birds and other animals.


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The recommended project includes a 14-acre gravel pad on the tundra to support drilling operations with up to 48 wells, the agency said.

A road and pipeline, each a little over 8 miles long, would connect to sister project Greater Mooses Tooth 1 to the north. First oil for that project, also in the oil reserve, is set to begin later this year, peaking at 30,000 barrels of oil daily, ConocoPhillips says.

BLM's environmental impact statement, analyzing environmental, economic and other effects of the development, will help guide future decisions for agencies seeking to approve permits for GMT2.

BLM said the report was developed with involvement from North Slope communities, with the Native Village of Nuiqsut and state as cooperating agencies.

BLM's recommendation is not final, but will inform a final decision from the Interior Department expected in October.

The project "may significantly restrict" subsistence activities in Nuiqsut, about 17 miles of the proposed drill site. The cumulative impact of GMT2 and other projects "may significantly restrict" subsistence activities  in that village and in the communities of Anaktuvuk Pass, Atqasuk and Utqiagvik.

ConocoPhillips has taken steps to reduce impacts to subsistence at existing developments in the region. But BLM could set additional mitigation measures to reduce impacts to subsistence activities when it makes a final decision, the agency said.

"Oil and gas development in the (oil reserve) is important to meeting our nation's energy needs and this analysis provides a responsible path forward in balance with resource protections," said Joe Balash, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management in Interior. "And, throughout the process we are proud of our efforts of involving the people most affected by development activities on the North Slope of Alaska."

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management also released an environmental statement on Aug. 23, that one recommending Hilcorp's proposed Liberty project in federal, shallow waters of the Beaufort Sea. First oil from that project is not expected until the 2020s, but it could produce up to 65,000 barrels of oil daily, adding to North Slope rates currently above 500,000 barrels.

A final decision from the Interior Department on that project is expected in October. 

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or