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Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
November 2006

Vol. 11, No. 46 Week of November 12, 2006

THE EXPLORERS 2006 - Benchmark expanding exploration horizons

Independent plans to apply state-of-the-art techniques in the search for gas in Cook Inlet basin

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

Since acquiring 20 Kenai Peninsula tracts in the State of Alaska’s May 2006 Cook Inlet basin areawide lease sale, Alaska-newcomer Benchmark Oil and Gas Co. has articulated a clear mantra for exploration in the region: apply state-of-the-art technologies to find new reserves.

Cook Inlet dovetails into the company’s strategy of exploring in emerging areas where there are opportunities to use state-of-the-art 3-D seismic technology, Andrew Wight, a Benchmark landman and the company’s general counsel, told Petroleum News after the lease sale.

Wight also said that Benchmark likes to explore in areas that larger companies have found unattractive.

“We feel like that gives us a niche, using our technology, to get in and do some things in areas that have been overlooked or neglected for whatever reason by larger companies,” Wight said.

Denise Stone, the company’s exploration advisor, confirmed that focus on technology when she spoke at the Southcentral Alaska Energy Forum in September.

“The (Cook Inlet) exploration hiatus that took place in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s was also a technology hiatus and … we want to apply some technology that has not been brought to this area over the last 30 years,” Stone said.

Founded in 1976

Benchmark Oil and Gas’s history as a Texas independent goes back to 1976. However, the Texas-based company became part of Swedish company Benchmark Oil and Gas AB in 2001. Onshore Texas remains the company’s core area for drilling and development and the company also owns active properties in California, Stone said. In addition to the company’s new venture in Alaska, Benchmark is seeking new opportunities for business in both Argentina and North Africa.

The international nature of Benchmark Oil and Gas AB’s organization and business interests is reflected by multiple nationalities represented on the company’s board of directors, she said.

In 2006 the Swedish company raised capital by going public in the Nordic Growth Market exchange. Wight said that the company plans on investing a substantial amount of that capital in Alaska.

“Benchmark is a 100 percent upstream exploration and production company,” Stone said. “We’re in a growth spurt right now. We like to operate and we like to drill wells.”

And Stone emphasized the company’s drilling success of the past couple of years in areas where the company has been active.

“In 2005 Benchmark drilled 10 wells with a respectable success rate of 90 percent. … This year we plan to drill 12 wells,” she said. “To date we’ve drilled five of those and four have been successful.”

Evaluating previous work

Stone said that in Alaska Benchmark has acquired leases on tracts totaling 110,000 acres in three areas of the Kenai Peninsula: along the north coast of the peninsula, in the central peninsula and north of Kachemak Bay in the southern part of the peninsula. She said that the company’s first exploration activities for its acreage involve evaluating the work that has already been done in the Cook Inlet basin.

“We intend to explore by acquiring data,” Stone said. “We’re in the process right now of trying to get access to well data, existing seismic and also potential field data.”

Stone said that by next applying new technologies Benchmark hopes to identify drilling prospects that it would like to pursue. And she expressed the company’s excitement following its success in the Cook Inlet areawide lease sale.

“We are delighted that we have 20 out of 22 tracts that we applied for,” she said.

Stone attributed Benchmark’s interest in Alaska at least in part to the efforts of the staff from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

“If it wasn’t for those folks coming down to Houston and being at the American Association of Petroleum Geologists conference … and the North American Prospects Expo, if they hadn’t come and told the Alaska story as clearly and confidently as they did, I really don’t think Benchmark would have participated as aggressively as it did in the lease sale,” Stone said.

According to Bill Van Dyke, "Benchmark's actions to date indicate that they are very intent on building a first class data base covering Cook Inlet well and seismic information, collecting new seismic data where necessary and using the best science possible to explore in areas of the inlet that have been overlooked in the past.

"They seem to be doing all the right things so far," he said Oct. 25, 2006.

Van Dyke is the director of the State of Alaska's Division of Oil and Gas, which is under the Department of Natural Resources.






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