A tiny independent oil and gas company has received state approval to form an exploration unit adjacent to Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope.
If that company — Alaskan Crude Corp. — meets the financial and work commitments set by the state in its four-year unit exploration plan it will be the first company of its size “to successfully operate on the North Slope,” the Division of Oil and Gas said in its June 29 findings and decision document on the 6,363-acre Arctic Fortitude unit.
Even though it involves lease extensions, approving the unit is “in the state’s interest because it would serve as an example for other similarly sized firms to follow, thereby promoting interest in further development of North Slope oil and gas reserves by companies of a similar size, of which there are many hundreds in North America,” the division said.
One and a half miles southeast of the Deadhorse airport, Arctic Fortitude sits on the south side of the Prudhoe Bay unit, immediately east of the NE Storms unit, within three State of Alaska oil and gas leases that were due to expire July 1. Unitizing the leases — ADL 389178, ADL 38179 and ADL 389177 — extends their expiration date as long as financial security and work commitments are met, the division said.
Money refunded if work doneThe initial plan of exploration for Arctic Fortitude runs from June 30 of this year to June 30, 2010. The plan has commitments that call for the workover and testing of the 1980s’ Burglin No. 33-1 well by Oct. 1, 2007; and drilling two new wells, one on each of the other leases, and shooting 3-D seismic over the entire unit by July 1, 2010. One of the new wells or the seismic program must be completed by Nov. 1 2009.
Because Arctic Fortitude’s owners did not do any substantive exploration during the seven-year term of the three leases, the division is requiring they compensate the state for unrealized bonus payments while they are evaluating the oil and gas potential of the unit and its leases are being withheld from the state leasing program.
The first payment is $60,000, due Aug. 15. If it is not made by 5 p.m. that day, the unit will automatically terminate at 5:01 p.m.
Subsequent payments of $60,000 are also due in 2007 and 2008. The money can be recouped if the owners meet the unit work commitments over the four-year exploration period.
In its annual report to the division Alaskan Crude is required to incorporate “new well test, drilling, or seismic data … into an analysis that more fully defines the extent of the unit area.” The analysis must include “structural contour maps showing the extent of the sands that are likely to be economic, estimates of hydrocarbon contacts, and geologic cross-sections” through the existing unit and adjacent wells.
Webb VP of regulatory affairsThe working interest owners of the three Arctic Fortitude leases are James W. White and James A. White. Unit operator Alaskan Crude is run by company president James “Jim” W. White of San Antonio, Texas.
The company, which the division describes as having a “long history of leasing and prospecting in the state,” also owns leases on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula where it is planning to re-enter the Moose Point No. 1 oil exploration well in search of natural gas.
Former Division of Oil and Gas natural resource officer Bruce Webb is Alaskan Crude’s vice president of regulatory affairs. He told Petroleum News in a recent interview that in the 1980s the company, under a different ownership structure, constructed three well pads on the three Arctic Fortitude leases.
In 1984-85 it drilled the Burglin No. 33-1 well in the Ivishak formation, the main reservoir formation in nearby Prudhoe Bay.
After testing, the Burglin No. 33-1 well was suspended and all work was discontinued on the leases.
Alaskan Crude ran into difficulties in the early 1990s, Webb said, which was the reason the company didn’t do more drilling.
“In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when the market and everything crashed they ended up going bankrupt,” he said.
Jim White bought the bankrupt company and repurchased the three leases in a state lease sale.
Re-entering the Burglin wellIn its re-entry of the Burglin well this coming winter Alaskan Crude plans to test several intervals including the West Sak/Ugnu, the middle Cretaceous Brookian and a portion of the Ivishak formation. Webb said the well is down dip from the Prudhoe Bay field. There is a significant geologic fault between the Arctic Fortitude unit and the adjacent NE Storms unit, he said.
The Burglin well penetrated the Ivishak, which appeared to be a little wet, Webb said. But there are questions regarding the testing done in the Ivishak, he said.
“There is talk that the well tests were inconclusive because the formation lost a lot of drilling fluid and, when they flowed the well, what they got back was the drilling fluid they lost and they didn’t flow the well any further,” Webb said. “… They didn’t even flow it long enough to get formation water, so we think that there’s a possibility that we can go back in and perforate it in different zones.”
And, he said, there is also oil potential in multiple horizons above the Ivishak.
“If you go up higher in the interval, into the Kuparuk sand, the West Sak, the Ugnu, there are oil shows in all of those,” Webb said. “The geologist that is working with Alaskan Crude terms it relic oil — oil that was from when the Prudhoe Bay accumulation was much larger. When it migrated, some of the oil was left.”
And the original drillers bypassed a heavy oil accumulation in good reservoir sands in the West Sak, he said.
“They weren’t going for the smaller accumulations of heavy oil,” Webb said.
Oil at $70 per barrel makes that type of accumulation economic, he said, noting that Jim White has experience in developing heavy oil in West Texas, using specialized production methods.
The well also has potential for gas production, Webb said.
“We believe they encountered gas around the Kuparuk and Saddlerochit,” he said.
Division less enthusiasticThe division was less enthusiastic about the Burglin well (based on the information it had.). Here is part of what the agency said about the well in its unit decision:
• The Burglin 33-1 well was cored, logged, perforated and tested in several formations, including sandstone intervals within the Ugnu, West Sak, Shublik, Brookian, Albian, HRZ, Kingak and Saddlerochit. None of the tests yielded hydrocarbons that would flow to the surface. The well encountered hydrocarbon indications on the mud log at several intervals and was suspended.
• Data submitted by Alaskan Crude “consists of the Burglin 33-1 open hole resistivity, sonic and mud logs, gyroscopic survey, a detailed mud log of the cored intervals, and maps from the June 1974 report ‘In Place Volumetric Determination of Reservoir Fluids, Saddlerochit Formation, Prudhoe Bay Field’ prepared for the State of Alaska by H.K. Van Poollen and Associates. Hand contours were added to one map from this report, the Isopach of Net Oil Sand Upper Zone, Saddlerochit Reservoir, Prudhoe Bay field, but the basis for the contours is not disclosed or discussed.”
• The application included daily drilling records which mention numerous drill stem tests performed in the Burglin 33-1 well (Sec. 33, T10N, R14E, U.M.) which was drilled to a total depth of 9,458 feet in the Ivishak formation. DST results from the well were not definitive and Alaskan Crude did not provide any engineering analysis.
• In addition to data submitted by Alaskan Crude, the division has a copy of a Core Laboratories core porosity and permeability report from the Burglin well. “This conventional core report indicates the API gravity extracted during standard core analyses yielded 24 to 26 API gravity oil from core #18 taken from 9,310 feet to 9,370 feet (measured depth) in the upper Ivishak sandstone. This could indicate the presence of flowable oil or residual oil left as oil migrated through the area.”
• “Data from the Burglin 33-1 well confirm the presence of shallower hydrocarbon reservoirs in the unit area, for example the Schrader Bluff formation, which produces commercial quantities of oil in the nearby Prudhoe Bay unit, Kuparuk River unit and Milne Point unit. The applicant proposes to evaluate these shallower intervals, which as demonstrated in these nearby units, may contain structural or stratigraphic traps.
• “While there was evidence of hydrocarbons in the Burglin 33-1 well, the limited geological information supplied by Alaskan Crude and otherwise available to the division neither clearly proves nor clearly disproves the existence of a … hydrocarbon accumulation or reservoir within the … unit.”
But the division acknowledged exploration for oil and gas is “not an exact science.” Well re-entry “using modern completion and drilling techniques may confirm bypassed oil and gas,” the agency said. “Surprises do happen” when hydrocarbons are discovered “in unlikely or previously unidentified formations.” (See sidebar for additional information about exploration results in the area supplied by the division in the unit decision.)
Summer drilling plannedBecause Alaskan Crude will be using existing well pads it plans to drill during the summer when, Webb said, drilling costs are lower than in the winter.
“The plan is to mobilize all the drilling rig and equipment out there in the winter (2006/2007) … and do a summer (2007) exploration program,” Webb said.
The company plans to use one of two rigs it currently has on the Kenai Peninsula — probably the same truck mounted rig it uses to re-enter the Moose Point No. 1 well.
That rig can drill to about 7,000 feet with standard casing and perhaps 9,500 feet with a slim hole, Webb said. But, when re-entering an existing well such as the Burglin well, the rig is powerful enough to reach depths of 10,000 feet, he said.
The second rig Alaskan Crude uses is more powerful, but is also more difficult to mobilize, Webb said.
Oil spill contingency planWebb said Alaskan Crude’s biggest current challenge is obtaining the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s approval for Arctic Fortitude’s oil spill contingency plan — a project the company has been working on for about a year with Oasis Environmental.
Webb said state bonding and financial responsibility requirements for oil spill response are expensive and do not encourage small independents to operate in Alaska.
“We don’t think the regulations are fair, especially if it’s a re-entry of the Burglin well,” Webb said. “It’s already drilled and cased and everybody knows what the formation pressures are all over the Prudhoe Bay. … They’re going to require you to have the same financial responsibility as though you’re drilling a well in Point Thomson where the pressures are very high.”
“The chances of having an uncontrolled flow or a blowout are next to zero but you have to come up with the same financial responsibility,” he said.
Arctic Fortitude has heavier oil that’s never been known to flow to the surface, Webb said, although he also said there may be gas present around the Kuparuk and Saddlerochit (see above), which division Director Bill Van Dyke said was a contradiction.
Additional wellsFollowing the Burglin re-entry, Alaskan Crude originally planned to drill a new well into the southwest corner of the unit, near the Hailstorm well that Pioneer Natural Resources drilled in early 2006. Alaskan Crude was going to directionally drill from the F2 pad in the northwest corner of Arctic Fortitude.
“That’s still up for discussion,” Webb said, “… (but) after talking to the geologists there may be other targets that we can just hit straight down.”
Hailstorm 1 was drilled in the NE Storms unit less than 1,000 feet from the southwestern corner of Alaskan Crude’s unit, and approximately five miles from the Burglin well.
Before drilling Hailstorm Pioneer said it would go to 10,000 feet through a portion of the Ivishak formation correlative to the interval from 9,803 feet to 9,903 feet (measured depth) in the Hemi Springs Unit 3 well (see sidebar to this story).
But after drilling Pioneer said Hailstorm 1 was a bust (see March 12 edition of Petroleum News). Additional information about the well is confidential, the division said.
Existing seismic dataAlaskan Crude already has some seismic data which it obtained under the terms of the Charter for the Development of the Alaska North Slope, an agreement resulting from the settlement between the State of Alaska, BP and ARCO, following BP’s takeover of ARCO in 1999-2000 and Phillips’ purchase of ARCO’s Alaska assets. The purpose of the charter was to help small independents to gain fair access to North Slope facilities and pipelines.
Alaskan Crude hired two companies to “interpret (the seismic) and that was the basis for the formation of the unit,” Webb said.
But the seismic consisted of only a half dozen lines that crossed the unit, Webb said, which is the reason the exploration plan for Arctic Fortitude includes shooting additional seismic.
Alaskan Crude might shoot seismic over the unit before the required date of Nov. 1, 2009, depending on what it finds in the Burglin well, Webb said.
Getting seismic under charter difficultIn addition to financing and oil spill plan challenges, Webb said Alaskan Crude initially ran into some significant hurdles obtaining seismic data under the Charter for the Development of the Alaska North Slope.
Under the terms of the charter, seismic data are available at reproduction cost to anyone with a valid need for the data. However, Alaskan Crude had a tough time finding someone who could release the data, Webb said.
“It took over a year to get that data — it wasn’t that easy to get,” Webb said. “… It pushed us right up to the limit where the unit was going to expire.”
But, having reached the point of gaining approval for Arctic Fortitude, Webb feels particularly pleased that a tiny independent oil company like Alaskan Crude has established a foothold on the North Slope, long the domain of much bigger oil companies.
“This is going to send a message out to all the independents that the state is saying ‘hey we’re open for business — you can come in now,’” Webb said.
If Alaskan Crude finds an economic accumulation of oil or gas, connecting to the existing North Slope infrastructure should prove straightforward. The trans-Alaska pipeline passes through the middle of the unit and the Haul Road is just four miles to the east, Webb said.