Drilling activity has picked up on Alaska’s North Slope ahead of President Trump’s inclusion in his current budget of revenues from leasing acreage in the richly oil-prospective coastal plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in northeast Alaska. No leasing plans are in the works at present, and it would be another 5 years before a leasing plan could be implemented—and that’s assuming the highly controversial move would survive a vicious gantlet of opposition.
ANWR leasing was fiercely opposed even before climate change entered the national conversation; it would certainly be co-opted by climate activists today.
Alaska, the oil industry, and the indigenous Inupiat on the slope support leasing not least because of developing likely elephant-scale oil potential in the coastal plain, but also to sustain continued operation of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), which could face closure if throughput drops much further from where it stands today. That would strand enormous resources in northern Alaska.
Meantime, operators have been making exploration and development progress on the slope, home to a number of North America’s largest oil fields:
• Last year, ExxonMobil started up production of condensate and recycled gas at Point Thomson, just west of ANWR’s boundary.
• Independent Caelus Energy Alaska is appraising a sizeable oil discovery in state waters offshore the North Slope’s National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A).
• Conoco-Phillips early this year reported a light oil discovery in the Greater Mooses Tooth Unit in the northeastern corner of the NPR-A, just west of its Alpine oil field development.
• Spain’s Repsol in Q1 of this year reported its Horseshoe oil discovery northeast of Alpine that it touted as the largest US onshore conventional discovery in 30 years.
Additionally, at year-end 2016, Exxon Mobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips concluded preliminary studies of a proposed mega-project to move North Slope gas from Prudhoe Bay and Point Thomson via a new pipeline to tidewater for exports of 20 million metric tons/year of LNG. The gas line would for the most part track the TAPS corridor.