Alaska Explores Shale Oil Development
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Alaska wants in on the hottest play in American energy: shale. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline is being used at less than one-third of its capacity, and state officials and energy producers think using the same hydraulic fracturing techniques used in North Dakota and Texas could get more oil out of the ground and fill the pipeline:
“We’ve had a close eye on the unconventional play in Canada and North Dakota, and to some extent, we’ve been viewing it as competition,” said Dan Sullivan, Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources commissioner. “But we view it less as competition, and more as an opportunity.”
Ed Duncan, the president of Great Bear Petroleum LLC, is optimistic that the same source rocks that helped make Prudhoe Bay oil-rich can generate oil [itself] if the shale is fractured. Duncan, whose company previously had leased nearly 498,000 acres of state land and expects the state to issue leases on 45,000 additional acres this fall, said it is just a matter of connecting the fact that the source rocks for the North Slope could produce oil.
“It’s bringing technology to Alaska to unlock the oil from the source rock,” Duncan said. ”We believe the stage is set to develop quickly, assuming the rocks will produce at adequate commercial rates.”
Great Bear is testing that theory in partnership with the oil services firm Halliburton. Last month the companies took core samples from one well, about 15 miles south of the Prudhoe Bay oil field, and they just started drilling another one last week. Duncan, some of whose leases abut the [Trans-Alaska Pipeline], estimated they would have a sense of the rocks’ commercial potential by the end of fall.
An interesting wrinkle is that there’s some support for greater use of the pipeline from environmental group, The Wilderness Society.
In Titusville, PA, 153 years ago, the innovative Edwin Drake used an iron pipe to drill the first successful commercial oil well. Today, hydraulic fracturing is releasing more of the earth’s resources. In both cases, American technological innovation drives continued energy development.