The Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the Bristol Bay Native Corp. signed a memorandum of understanding July 10 "to facilitate oil and gas lease sales on state and BBNC land in the Bristol Bay region."
"Traditionally we've looked at the North Slope, we've looked at Cook Inlet. And Bristol Bay's been off limits. Now it's back in contention," Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski said at a July 11 press briefing.
The state has approximately 3.5 million acres in the area, the governor said. The memorandum says Bristol Bay Native Corp. manages a 3.1 million acre mineral estate on behalf of its 7,100 shareholders.
Shallow gas leasing could happen first, the governor said, and industry could shoot seismic in the area next year. The state plans an exploration license offering in the northern area next year and an areawide lease sale in the southern portion in 2005.
Mark Myers, director of the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas, said the area is prospective for both oil and gas. The northern area is gas prone and the southern area is oil prone, he said.
Tom Hawkins, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Bristol Bay Native Corp., said the corporation has been interested in onshore exploration since he went to work there in 1992, but local communities have only become interested recently, as fishing has declined.
To provide access to the area the state plans a road from King Salmon to Chignik, the governor said, with monies from oil and gas leasing expected to pay for the estimated $285 million price tag. Work on the road would begin within two years.
Murkowski said "the long range plan is that this area has the potential of being a major portion of Alaska's oil province," while in the short term, natural gas would reduce local energy costs. Hawkins said the local electrical co-ops are the "most aggressive seekers of shallow gas in our region."