One Question Remains As The US Moves Closer To Drilling In ANWR: How Much Oil Is There?

From The Daily Caller

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

  • ANWR could hold massive amounts of oil and natural gas, but findings from the only well drilled in the refuge have been kept secret for decades.
  • The New York Times recently reported the test well findings were disappointing, but experts say one test well doesn’t tell the whole story.
  • “I know for a fact it’s an oily area,” said a geologist that’s spent decades exploring the Alaskan Arctic, including ANWR.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s (ANWR) coastal plain, or 1002 area, could hold billions of barrels of oil and natural gas, but the results of the only test well drilled in the refuge has been kept secret for decades.

The New York Times recently tried to pierce the veil of secrecy of the 1986 test well, called KIC-1, by looking through court documents filed in Ohio and talking with the attorneys involved in the case.

“The discovery well was worthless,” said now-retired attorney Sidney Silverman, who represented Standard Oil of Ohio shareholders in a 1987 lawsuit against BP, one of the oil companies that drilled the KIC well.

After deposing a BP executive, Silverman told The Times he remembered being convinced “either there was no oil and gas there, or the oil couldn’t be produced at an economic value.” That sentiment was echoed by a BP executive and a lawyer The Times spoke to.

The Times’s April 2 piece will no doubt be seized upon by opponents of ANWR drilling, but the question remains: How much can one really know about ANWR’s oil and gas potential from one test well?

Oxford-educated geologist Roger Herrera was first sent by BP to look for oil and gas in the Alaskan Arctic in the 1960s, including ANWR’s coastal plain. He said it was “absolute nonsense” to judge ANWR based on one confidential test well.

Polar bears are seen within the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Three polar bears are seen on the Beaufort Sea coast within the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Image Library on Dec. 21, 2005. REUTERS/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

“Either the writer or the people he was writing about didn’t have the slightest clue what they were trying to understand,” Herrera, now retired, said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The point is, it doesn’t matter.”

Herrera was not privy to the KIC well results but has experience with looking for oil and natural gas across the North Slope and Arctic. He said test wells often turn up no hydrocarbons but provide valuable geological data. (RELATED: Would The Green New Deal Could Make Us More Dependent On China For Energy?)

“The evidence you get from that well is the data and position that gives you an advantage,” Herrera said. “It allows you to assess the geology of the area because you’ve got real data down to 10,000 feet or so that you can tie to the seismic data.”

Anyone else looking for oil and gas in ANWR would be guessing, Herrera said. “That assessment might downgrade the whole area or it might do the exact opposite,” he said.

“It allows them to make those estimates whereas everybody else is completely guessing,” Herrera said.

Herrera, for decades, advocated for drilling in ANWR, but the refuge remained off-limits to energy exploration for decades as environmentalists held enough sway in Congress to keep drillers out.

ANWR’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain was finally opened to energy exploration when President Donald Trump signed 2017 tax cuts into law. That provision was put in the tax legislation by Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of the biggest proponents of opening ANWR.

Bird research camp is seen within the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bird research camp on the Canning River Delta within the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain is seen in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Image Library. REUTERS/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Opening ANWR comes more than three decades after BP, Chevron and two Alaska native corporations teamed up to drill the KIC well in the eastern part of the 19.2 million-acre refuge. The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), one of the native corporation partners, has continued to aggressively push for opening ANWR.

ASRC declined to comment, but Richard Glenn, a geologist with the group, told Congress in 2017 that ANWR holds “significant potential for onshore oil and gas development.”

ASRC and Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) own 92,000 acres of surface and subsurface in ANWR. For decades, the federal government kept those lands off-limits to exploration, despite the potential economic benefit to local tribal members.

“I know for a fact it’s an oily area,” Herrera said. “The clue is really contained in the rocks that occur above the surface in the tundra. Those exposures will more or less tell you what’s going on in general.”

The big question is whether or not ANWR’s oil and natural is trapped in large or small reservoirs by the region’s underground geology. However, even good seismic data doesn’t give the full picture and test wells are needed to truly understand the geology.

“There’s a very good expectation under the 1002 area that there are going to be reservoir and source rocks for oil or gas, no one is quite sure which,” Herrera said, adding he believes there are probably “trapping mechanisms” under ANWR. “I’m very confident I’m right.”

The last resource assessment of ANWR conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1998 estimated technically recoverable oil reserves at 10.4 billion barrels. That was a two-dimensional seismic survey using 1980s computing power, and the technology has drastically improved since.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., Jan. 24, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Three-dimensional seismic surveys can give geologists a more accurate picture of what lay underneath ANWR, but environmental activists fought hard to keep further tests from being carried out.

Seismic testing in ANWR was scheduled to take place over the winter but had to be delayed because the company contracted to carry out tests did not get a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in time.

The prolonged government shutdown may be partly to blame for that, and the company, SAExploration, plans on carrying out seismic testing in December 2019. That could complicate things for drillers looking to bid on leases in late 2019.

ANWR still lacks updated seismic data, however, signficant oil and gas finds have been made to the west. (RELATED: Colorado Democrats Pass Bill To Crack Down On A Pillar Of State’s Economy – Oil And Gas Drilling)

“One of the largest fields in Alaska is in development within a stone’s throw from ANWR,” said Jon Katchen, former senior counsel to Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan.

Sullivan, now a GOP U.S. senator, supports oil and gas exploration in ANWR. He’s not alone — Alaska’s entire congressional delegation, and most other elected officials in the state, support drilling in the refuge.

Katchen is referring to the Point Thomson field, which is 60 miles west of the village Kaktovik, which lies on ANWR’s coastal plain. Exxon brought the reservoir online in 2016 and aims to eventually produce 10,000 barrels of natural gas condensate per day.

To the west of Point Thomson sits Prudhoe Bay, Alaska’s most iconic oil field. The 1968 oil discovery there completely reshaped Alaska’s economy and drastically raised standards of living for Alaskan residents and tribes.

The sun sets behind an oil drilling rig in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska

The sun sets behind an oil drilling rig in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, on March 17, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

However, it almost never happened. BP and Sinclair Oil drilled six wells in the early 1960s that all turned up dry. More wells were drilled by other companies, but by 1967 the oil and gas industry had basically given up on the North Slope.

“It’s not uncommon for wells to be drilled with disappointing results, then another well to be drilled and ‘whoa,’” Katchen told TheDCNF.

That “whoa” moment came just before Christmas 1967 when ARCO and Humble Oil, with the last drilling rig left on the North Slope, hit paydirt, NPR reported. Months later, a second test well confirmed the oil discovery was massive — about 10 billion barrels.

“That’s the sort of process that happens when you’re looking for oil,” Herrera said. Test wells are about the geological information, not just striking oil and gas.

The Times did note, however, that one of the few people outside of BP or Chevron to see the results of the KIC well was geologist Mark Myers. Myers was allowed to examine the geological data from the well in 1988, but not allowed to take notes. All he reported were “the findings were significant,” The Times reported.

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62 thoughts on “One Question Remains As The US Moves Closer To Drilling In ANWR: How Much Oil Is There?

    • That’s because they’re all eating each other cos no ice etc…..

      Those are the last three left.

      • There’s more oil spilled on the ground daily in a WalMart in Palo Alto than on the Point Thompson field near ANWR. The oil and gas operators up there are fanatical to the point of OCD about protecting the environment.

        Multi-thousand dollar fines are mandated for actions that don’t actually end in a spill, but merely increase the odds that they might. If the lower 48 implemented the same environmental protection standards that exist on the North Slope of Alaska people would be screaming and revolt. Imagine walking through a downtown city park, any where in any town or city and losing your job if you stepped off the path and onto the grass. That’s the kind of environmental protection that presently exists near ANWR.

  1. the technology has drastically improved since” the 1980s. That can turn oil that can’t be economically produced into oil that can be economically produced.
    Let companies drill at their own risk, and see what they find.

    • That’s always been the plan.
      It’s the environmentalists who have been against any drilling. Period.

      • The backstory is that the worst President of the 20th century, save one or two, just lost re-election by a landslide, losing as many states as Goldwater lost. It wasn’t personal rejection. Too many people forget that Democrat control of the Senate was toppled and the losers were Church, Nelson, McGovern and other Senate liberals. It’s funny whenever liberals whine and cry about gerrymandering and the will of the voters or something. They really do care about the will of the voters, unless they LOSE power. Weird how none of this mattered in November of 1980 and they won’t even acknowledge what they did many, many years ago:

        “In early November 1980, Jimmy Carter lost re-election to Ronald Reagan, and the Republican Party won a majority of seats in the Senate. Conservationists and other proponents of the legislation recognized that if they did not accept the compromise then on the table, they would be forced to begin again in the next Congress with decidedly less support. The bill was passed in late November, and signed into law by President Carter in December.”

  2. The KIC well was drilled at the far northeastern edge of ANWR in the heavily deformed area, on “Native lands”. The most recent USGS assessment puts something like 95% of the resource potential in the western part of ANWR, in the undeformed area…

    Quantities of technically recoverable oil are not expected to be uniformly distributed throughout the
    ANWR 1002 area. The undeformed area (fig. 2) is estimated to contain between 3.4 and 10.2 billion barrels of oil (BBO) (95- and 5-percent probability), with a mean of 6.4 BBO. The deformed area (fig. 2) is estimated to contain between 0 and 3.2 BBO (95- and 5-percent probability), with a mean of 1.2 BBO.

    USGS

  3. If ANWR wasn’t a good area to look for oil and natural gas, the environmental community would not oppose exploration at every breath. Thus, they have opposed drilling in the area for half a century.

  4. I was real interested in Alaska, especially ANWR in the late 1990’s, but I ended up going to Saudi Arabia instead (good choice nothing much has happened there in the last 30 years). The oil development will all be on the coastal plain which is as barren and stark as shown in the bears photo.
    Those bears are a long ways from their dens. The area was “surveyed”proving the coastal plain habitat isn’t suitable for bear dens (but great for mosquitoes). Media photos like to show the mountains in the background. There won’t be any drilling activity within a 100 miles of the mountains. Ninety nine (99) percent of ANWR will be untouched.

    • The early estimates, pre-2000, were than drilling and other land development would use 1/9,500th of the land in ANWR. The would remain untouched. To dimensionalize that number, it is about the size of pot holder on a football field.

  5. If there is no oil there, then after the oil companies drill a couple of wells, they will give up and go home.
    If there is no oil there, there is no reason why the environmentalists should fight so hard to prevent drilling.

    • Well, it just feels good to prevent, well, oil wells. No matter where they are.
      (The pipelines to transport the finds? Well, that’s another post about them following their Pied Piper.)

      • Dear Robert

        It’s oil which provides their comfortable lifestyle and the resources to pursue their calling.

        Give them a place where they can live their dream of a fossil free life and see how many survive.

        That’s not what they want: they want to use oil to tell everyone else to stop using oil and they won’t care how many don’t survive.

        DP

  6. If it were up to me I would sell leases to the oil companies where ever they wanted to look. Stop all the screwing around and lets get her done.

  7. A few key comments on 1002 :

    1) The last seismic data that was shot in 1002 was in the mid-80s – 2D data ( as stated in the article above). Only 11 companies have access to the data – it was what is known as a “group shoot” and only that group has access to it. Companies makes decisions based on data & they want to make decisions based on modern data. With most of the industry not having access to any seismic data and only 11 companies have access to vintage 2D data, don’t expect this to be an impressive bid round – there simply isn’t enough information / data to bid aggressively in this round

    2) The geology on 1002 is substantially different than the established production area to the west. This can be deduced from surrounding wells and seismic and surface geology. Over most of 1002, the sub-Cretaceous section (reservoirs and sources) has been eroded and is not present. Note that is the geologic section that the majority of current production comes from. The section that is present is younger, which includes rocks of ages similar to the most recent discoveries announced at Pikka and Willow.

    The reason all of this is pertinent is that 1002 is vastly different , both stratigraphically & structurally, to the known North Slope production area just to the west. Not to say 1002 won’t have fabulous production some day but just because it is spatially close to the fields to the west is pretty much irrelevant, in terms of geology. And of course, anyone exploring this region knows how different the geology is .. and would temper any bids as there are far more greater unknowns here than to the west.

    Again, just another reason not to expect a wild bid round until there is 3D available to the whole industry so that these risks can be assessed with much more certainty.

    • The temptation to employ “Close-ology” is irresistible… I do it all the time.

    • Jeff L,

      1. “there simply isn’t enough information / data to bid aggressively in this round”.

      The Swanson River, Prudhoe Bay, Kuparuk and Pt. Thomson oil fields were all discovered using limited 2D data and sparse geologic well control. It would be nice to have 3D seismic and more well data but not necessary for finding big, legacy sized fields in Alaska.

  8. There is more than the environtards are afraid there is, that is why they are screeching so loudly. Notice that none of them LIVE in the region, and a vanishingly tiny number of them have gone there.

    • One could make a good case that environmental groups have it in for native peoples of the North.
      The Greens certainly suppress them in many ways. Consider the effects which various bans and boycotts of seal and other animal items gathered and produced by native hunters and craftsmen, have on their subsistence lifestyles. Some number of native deaths can be directly attributed to the virtue signalling Greens, as a critical revenue stream was lost to the Inuit, Inupiat and other groups.

      The Sami people of far Northern Europe are under similar assault, as the Greens try to suppress the Sami traditional Reindeer herding and harvesting, as well as other aspects of their lives.

      How much better would those native lives be with the influx of cash from the sale of oil and gas resources, which they already own, but can’t produce?

      • Environazis do not give a sh*t about “native populations” beyond how they can use them to manipulate other “populations” to give them money and vote for their leftist stupidity. Same for animals in remote places. Just more tools to push their leftist political ideology.

  9. For a lawyer to say either there was no oil or it could not be produced at an economic benefit is totally ridiculous, those two statements are very far apart. If the geologist Herrera said it was an oily area, I am presuming he saw seeps, bitumen in exposed strata, methane bubbles in springs, etc. The issue of area 1002, a subset of ANWR ab inicio, is totally political. I wish anti-everything environmentalists would go there and interact with our brother the polar bear, not to mention mosquitos looking for blood donors. Fracking? Later!

  10. The story highlights how much “we listen to the science” is hogwash. What’s listened to and what is ignored is chosen based on biases and politics.

  11. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski always seems to look terrified in the photos that I’ve seen. Come to think of it she looks just like she did in the photo of her being cornered in a hall doorway by Dianne Feinstein earlier this year.

    Does anyone know what they were “discussing”. Is Murkowski and/or Alaska being held up by Feinstein’s Minions?

    • I found that photo disturbing in the extremus, simply because I’d like to assume that anybody elected to high office would be beyond being cowed into beta posturing. But hey we dont know what they were discussing even though its extremely likely that Feinstein was attempting to strong-arm her into voting against Kavenaugh.

  12. There is nothing up there unless you go towards the mountains…just tundra, grass, hill, little pools of water (in the summer) and streams. Why would anyone WANT to up there except for a job or some kind of mineral wealth?

    Speaking of mineral wealth, those mountains look good for minerals… You can see iron all over the place. I wonder how much of that has been professionally prospected for ores?

  13. This is really a totally ridiculous article.
    How many times have oil companies found oil where none was supposed to exist?
    How many times have oil companies drilled in areas that promised large quantities of oil and turned up nothing?

    Oil companies explore to verify what is really there; to confirm, or not, the information gleaned from geologic and geophysical studies. That’s why they will drilling in ANWR. To see if there are recoverable quantities of oil.
    They may find no oil.
    They may find lot’s of oil.
    No one will know until they try.

    And the point of the article is what?
    To affirm that a lot more work must be done to learn how much oil is in the ground?

    What a nonsensical article.

    • And… Quite often, we drill a lot of dry holes before we figure out what works in a frontier basin.

      • Yep. Having read this you now know you, and everyone else, is being lied to. ANWR is filled with all manner of natural resources, one of which is excellent meat, which properly harvested, could feed millions of starving people. Lets not even get into the trillions of tons of ore and coal in the region. Or the trillions of cubic feet of gas. Timber? Lets us not even speak of that, either. Launch sites for human expansion off this planet? Yea, don’t bring that up either. Lets us just leave everything above 60 Lat. to lay waste. That should help humanity to “move forward”.

    • It tells me there are still vast areas of worthless land in remote areas occupied by midges and the occasional mammal no doubt, which has rich potential to help the native population earn a good living, without harming the native habitat in any significant way.
      It also informed me, the COGS the constantly offended green socialists have been active in stopping commercial development, since the place was first proposed as a potential rich oil/gas site.
      I guess I didn’t need to be told that last bit, it is as constant as the sun rise.

  14. What’s the point! The great Obamasiah told us that we could not drill our way to lower oil prices (although, I understand he is trying to take credit for the fracking boom). There is no oil in ANWR, yet companies want to continue to spend millions to drill. There sure are a lot of stupid companies. I am in the “drill baby drill” camp.

  15. If KIC-1 came up dry and uninteresting, why keep the results a secret?

    It doesn’t compute, Jim.

    • It was a “strat test.” They were drilling in the only place they were allowed to drill. The primary purpose of the well was to see what the rocks looked like. Since the well wasn’t on a Federal lease, there was no legal requirement to release any data to the public. Why share the only ANWR stratigraphic control with anyone? I sure as hell wouldn’t.

      • I think “environmental” groups sued to make Chevron et al. make the data available. The groups were “poured out” (lost badly).

  16. Hmmm, I seem to recall that it was Atlantic Richfield (ARCO) and Humble Oil that drilled the discovery well at Prudhoe Bay. ARCO was the major operating company for many years until BP bought them out. Seems a shame to neglect the importance of ARCO and north slope production.

    • Keith,

      You are correct. BP had already stacked their exploration rig and decided to barge it off the slope after drilling a string of dry holes. ARCO also drilled nothing but dry holes and it took some convincing but ARCO geologists got management approval for one last exploration well which was the Prudhoe discovery well. The target was Lisburne carbonate structural trap mapped from 2D seismic and not the Sadlerochit sandstones (Ivishak) which is the primary Prudhoe reservoir. They had designed special bits to drill through the Sadlerochit “tombstone rock” because it was observed in outcrops to be so hard it couldn’t be broken with a rock hammer. Those outcrops are in ANWR.

      The book “Discovery at Prudhoe Bay” by John M. Sweet tells the story very well.

  17. Decades ago, the early estimates on ANWR were 2 billion to 11 billion barrels. I don’t recall the natural gas numbers but the field was said to be the second largest ever discovered at the time.

    I assume that both numbers have been estimated higher given the advance in technology.

  18. All this speculation, lawsuits, debate… on the basis of ONE HOLE??–is the world insane? Check the history of the Hemlo gold mine sometime–if my memory is correct (I may be off by a hole or two) they drilled 70 ‘dry’ holes before they hit the deposit. An epic story of a geologist with a good concept of the mineralization and a company that believed in him. Anyone who has managed a drilling program will understand the lunacy of this debate; I guess many haven’t.

  19. One thing I do know is that the NYT cannot be trusted. They will either lie or cherry pick the least promising data. I don’t know why people still treat that publication with any respect.

  20. A stones throw away? You’d better not throw a stone up there. It might hit, inconvenience, annoy, or otherwise “take” an endangered species or other species like the always-rabid arctic fox, and then you’re out of a job.

  21. One dry hole? Move a little higher up the structure and try again.

    Gidgealpa, South Australia, 1960’s. Actually, #1 wasn’t ‘dry’, they hit water. Water so contaminated that the drill crew were forbidden to use it vehicle radiators. We, the doodle-buggers (a seismic crew) were expected to drink that water. That didn’t last long at all. “Who want’s some overtime; bring a load of water from the creek?” (Coopers Creek – about two hours away, and about about 30 minutes to suck up 600 gallons of water) At 70 cents an hour, I made a number of trips; nothing else to do in the middle of nowhere.

    United Geophysical did some survey work on the North Slope – but I wasn’t there. Desert – Australia, ship-board – Java Sea, and swamp – Papua and later Borneo. Then I got married…..

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