Alaska's North Slope: rising or falling?

The Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy issued a new report today on oil and gas potential on Alaska’s North Slope asking: A Promising Future or an Area in Decline? One only needs to realize how long the report is — 479 pages — to realize the DOE’s answer is A: Promising Future.

20070921_alaskaoil_kkf_008 A BP coil-drilling rig in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Kevin Fuji photo.

Future projections were viewed from two perspectives, an oil-centered near term (2005 to 2015) and a long term (2015 to 2050) marked by the emergence of gas as a major factor in exploration and development activities. Key findings of the report indicate that the future for Alaska North Slope oil and gas resources ranges from very promising to limited depending on how many of the following assumptions apply:

• An Alaska North Slope natural gas pipeline is operational by 2016.
• Oil and gas prices remain near current high values.
• Federal and Alaskan fiscal policies remain stable and support the huge investments required.
• Reserves in known fields increase through discovery of new pools, application of new technology, or higher oil prices.
• The 1002 Area of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is opened for exploration and development.
• Exploration is allowed in the most prospective areas of National Petroleum Reserve Alaska.
• The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are available for exploration and development without major restrictions.

Ocean drilling on the horizon? Cousins Megan Shugluk and Edna Lynn Tunik of Barrow, Ak on the shore of the Chukchi Sea, where the DOE has started to sell exploration leases. Tom Fowler photo.

If all of the above happen, an additional 36 billion barrels of oil and 137 trillion cubic feet of natural gas would be added over current reserve estimates, the report concludes.
The North Slope once provided 25 percent of U.S. domestic oil production (a peak reached in 1988) but today accounts for about 17 percent. If a natural gas pipeline were built, as ConocoPhillips and TransCanada are proposing, there would likely be more exploration across the North Slope, leading to more discoveries, more infrastructure, and an extension on the life of the existing Trans Alaskan Pipeline System to beyond 2050.
The full report is here, all 479 pages of it. Here’s the summary.