Alaska and fracking

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Fracking takes place regularly on about 20 percent of conventional wells in Alaska, according to EnergyWire in January 2013. Alaska's North Slope region has been estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey to contain up to 2 billion barrels of oil and 80 trillion cubic feet of gas -- second in shale oil only to the Bakken formation in North Dakota. But the agency has admitted that the figures are uncertain, as the region's shale rock is untested.[1]

Introduction

In 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey released an assessment estimating that Alaska’s North Slope shales may hold as much as 80 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, and as much as 2 billion barrels of tight oil (often referred to as shale oil).[2]

The report noted that high development costs and limited infrastructure have prevented companies from producing shale resources in Alaska, although Great Bear Petroleum, Halliburton, and Royale Energy began exploring for tight oil shortly after the 2012 assessment release, thanks in part to the state's exploration tax credits.[3]

Great Bear Petroleum bought 500,000 acres of northern Alaska state land in 2010, hoping to produce 200,000 barrels of crude per day by 2020 (as well as natural gas liquids), shipped via the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Fracking may begin in winter 2013.[4]

The gas resources, unlike the tight oil resources, will likely not be developed without a massive gas pipeline from the remote North Slope to transport it.[3]

History: Gas

Alaskan gas wells are located in two regions. The largest source is the North Slope area around Prudhoe Bay Oil Field in Prudhoe Bay where gas was discovered along with oil in 1968. In 1974 the State of Alaska's Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys estimated that the field held 26 km3 of natural gas.[5]

Because there is no way to transport the Prudhoe Bay gas to markets, as gas comes out of the wells, it is separated from the oil stream and reinjected into the ground to maintain the oil reservoir pressures. There are several proposals to transport the Prudhoe Bay gas.

The second source is located on the Kenai Peninsula on the South coast of Alaska. The DOE believes there are probable gas reserves of 1,726.4 Bcf in this area.[6] Most of this gas is exported to Japan through a liquefied natural gas terminal located on the Cook Inlet. The Cook Inlet basin contains large oil and gas deposits including several offshore fields.

As of 2005 there were 16 platforms in Cook Inlet, the oldest of which is the XTO A platform first installed by Shell in 1964, and newest of which is the Osprey platform installed by Forest Oil in 2000. Most of the platforms are operated by Union Oil which was acquired by Chevron in 2005. There are also numerous oil and gas pipelines running around and under the Cook Inlet.

The main destinations of the gas pipelines are to Kenai where the gas is primarily used to fuel commercial fertilizer production and a liquified natural gas (LNG) plant and to Anchorage where the gas is consumed largely for domestic uses. ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil operate the LNG terminal under a series of two-year long licenses issued by the U.S. Department of Energy under Section 3 of the Natural Gas Act. When these companies applied for another two-year extension of the license, various Alaskan entities, including the local fertizer plant, opposed the application on the grounds that there was not sufficient gas to meet local requirements as well as the proposed exports. The Agrium fertilizer plant claimed it closed because it could not obtain a gas supply. On June 3, 2008, the Department of Energy granted the extension saying there were sufficient supplies for Alaska's needs.[6]

Estimated reserves

In 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey said it estimates that Alaska’s North Slope shales may hold as much as 80 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, and as much as 2 billion barrels of shale oil. The USGS said that the assessment, which was first made of North Slope shale resources, is based on estimates from extracting oil and gas from similar formations, such as the Marcellus Shale. The estimate will increase the pressure for even more access to oil and natural gas resources in Arctic land and waters.[7]

Petroleum geologist Ed Duncan, CEO of Great Bear Petroleum LLC, believes that Alaska's "North Slope geology will yield bountiful untapped resources as vast as the unconventional oil plays at Texas' Eagle Ford and North Dakota's Bakken shale fields." He estimates that it would produce "200,000 barrels of crude per day by 2020". He expects production to peak at 600,000 bpd in 2056. Duncan's estimates have not been verified by others in the industry.[8]

Gas pipeline

BP Employee Explains Alaska's Proposed Denali Gas Pipeline.

The State of Alaska has adopted legislation which would provide $500 million of start-up funding for a new pipeline to transport Prudhoe Bay gas. The selected proposal from TransCanada would go through Canada without connecting to the existing natural gas system in Southern Alaska, although three Boroughs have formed the Alaskan Gasline Port Authority to build a line from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez that would connect to the existing system.

The gas pipeline emerged as an issue in the 2008 United States elections, because Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin cited her actions on the gas pipeline as evidence of "standing up to Big Oil"[9] while her opponents claim it was a political reward to her political supporter TransCanada Corp.[10][11]

LNG terminals

As of 2012 Alaska is the only U.S. state operating an LNG export plant, owned by ConocoPhillips near Kenai. In 2012 ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips proposed a $50 billion pipeline and export terminal to increase LNG exports to Asia.[12]

Citizen activism

Legislative issues and regulations

List of regulations in the state.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission released draft fracking regulations in December 2012. According to the proposed rules, drillers would have to give notice to all landowners and operators within a quarter-mile of the well's path before fracking it. Shale drillers would also have to evaluate nearby aquifers and take samples from water wells before and after completing an oil and gas well, testing for metals, methane, dissolved solids, and other contamination indicators. The rules would also strengthen existing well construction standards in Alaska, requiring drillers to pressure-test well casing, evaluate well site geology to ensure that fluids don't pollute water and soil, and consider fault lines that could lead to seismic activity at the fracture site.

Under the proposed chemical disclosure rule, companies will not be able to keep trade secrets for hydraulic fracturing ingredients. Drillers would have to disclose all fracking fluid ingredients on the industry-supported website FracFocus.org, including the volume, description, and Chemical Abstracts Service number.

The oil and gas commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed rules in February 2013.[13]

In September 2013 it was reported that the Alaskan government would join Alabama, Montana and Oklahoma in protesting Bureau of Land Management plans to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal land.[14]

In November 2013 Alaska regulators issued revised hydraulic fracturing rules that would give oil and gas companies broad discretion to claim as secret the makeup of their fracking fluids.[15]

Citizen groups

Industry groups

Reports

Resources

References

  1. Ellen M. Gilmer, "Fracking trade secrets would get no protection under draft Alaska rule," E&E, January 3, 2013.
  2. Katarzyna Klimasinska, "N. Alaska May Hold 80T Cubic Feet of Shale Gas," Bloomberg, Feb. 24, 2012.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Alex DeMarban, "New report reveals vast stores of Alaska shale oil and gas," Alaska Dispatch, February 24, 2012.
  4. Margaret Kriz Hobson, "Scrappy wildcatters at Great Bear Petroleum go after Alaska's untapped shale oil," E&E, September 26, 2013.
  5. Estimated Speculative Recoverable Resources of Oil and Natural Gas in Alaska. Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys. Department of Natural Resources. State of Alaska. January 1974. (Adobe Acrobat *.PDF document)
  6. 6.0 6.1 DOE Opinion and Order No. 2500 (PDF), p. 45. U.S. Department of Energy (June 3, 2008). Retrieved 2008-09-15.
  7. Katarzyna Klimasinska, "N. Alaska May Hold 80T Cubic Feet of Shale Gas," Bloomberg, Feb. 24, 2012.
  8. "Geologist's Alaska gamble could turn into America's next big shale play" Energywire, April 3, 2013.
  9. Sarah Palin. JohnMcCain.com. Retrieved 2008-09-15.
  10. GOP Convention Spin, Part II. FactCheck.org (September 4, 2008). Retrieved 2008-09-15.
  11. "Conflict?", Anchorage Daily News editorial (2007-12-15). "Marty Rutherford, who leads Gov. Sarah Palin’s gas pipeline team, made $40,200 in 2003 while consulting in Juneau for a pipeline subsidiary of TransCanada. TransCanada is one of the companies bidding for a state license to build a pipeline to carry gas to market from Alaska’s North Slope. It’s not a disqualifier, but the past connection deserves a second thought." 
  12. Eric Roston, "Shale Fracking Makes U.S. Natural Gas Superpower. Now What?" Bloomberg, Sep 25, 2012.
  13. Ellen M. Gilmer, "Fracking trade secrets would get no protection under draft Alaska rule," E&E, January 3, 2013.
  14. "Montana joins 3 other states in protesting fracking rules" Associated Press, August 29, 2013.
  15. Margaret Kriz Hobson, "Revised Alaska fracking rules protect trade secrets," E&E, November 18, 2013.

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