Apache shares plans for seismic exploration

When it comes to seismic testing, Buccaneer isn’t the only show on the Kenai Peninsula.


Over the next three years, Apache Corporation plans to do seismic testing throughout the Cook Inlet and the Peninsula.

Representatives from the Houston-based independent oil and gas company talked about their plans for seismic studies Monday at a meeting of the Cohoe-Kasilof Community Council. Apache is trying to use soundwaves to figure out what structures underground look like, said John Hendrix, the head of Apache’s operations in Alaska. Folds in the earth often contain the hydrocarbons Apache is looking for, but 3-D seismic work is needed to determine just where the curvy traps are located, Hendrix said. There is no comprehensive 3-D sesimic information for the Peninsula, although some 2-D work has been done and 3-D data is available for small pockets. 

The state of Alaska will have partial ownership of the information, giving others a glimpse of the Peninsula’s inverse topography.

“This is writing the subsurface book for Cook Inlet,” Hendrix said.

Primarily, Apache wants to know what it is buried in the deepest reaches of the earth.

“We’re after oil,” Hendrix said.

Apache started its work on the west side of Cook Inlet in September.

Now the company is ready to pursue studies on the east side.

The first phase will focus on transitional work — that is, the area along the coast where both marine and land work is needed. The work will start in Anchor Point and work north. Eventually, Apache wants seismic for the entire stretch from Anchor Point to the Susitna Flats, but the first phase will likely go as far north as the central Peninsula area, probabably near Kalifornsky Beach. And it will go deep.

“We’re going down to 20,000 feet,” said Suzan Simonds, from Safety Acquisition Experience, the company doing the seismic studies for Apache. SAE is an international firm with an Anchorage office for its Alaska operations.

Most of the subsurface rights are owned by the state of Alaska, Cook Inlet Region, Inc. and the Alaska Mental Health Trust. Apache has some leases in the area, but does not have leases for the entire area it plans to explore.

Right now, Apache is just scoping out and planning for its work. The company plans to hold a series of community meetings in January, and then get the needed permits in February. Seismic work, if approved, would start in August. There will also be job fairs in the coming months — probably in conjunction with the community meetings — to inform locals about possible job opportunities. Work on the west side of the inlet required more than 200 employees.

Simonds, who does work on permits and regulations compliance, talked about the logistics of the seismic work.

Her company will be taking seismic readings along a line, with nodes in the ground about every 165 feet to capture soundwaves. The nodes will have wireless devices inside, including a GPS unit and a geophone, that capture information. The battery inside a node lasts about two weeks, and then the company will pick them up and do a final sweep to make sure nothing is left behind.

The soundwaves will be transmitted for the nodes to capture either by vibrators on trucks or heliportable drills. Heliportable drills are carried on helicopters, and create a hole about 3-inches in diameter, 35-feet deep.

Apache representative Lisa Parker said the heliportable-style seismic work means there is no need to cut or clear a path for the work in rural areas.

Simonds also talked about some of the procedures meant to protect wells and other structures.

Standard operating procedure is to stay 300 feet away from wells. SAE will follow established standards for the distance from other hazards, Simonds said. The state sets out a variety of requirements, and SAE will follow the requirements in each area, Simonds said. The company also plans to work with property owners regarding their preferences in where the work is done.

SAE will use a different sound-catching device for marine work.

The marine nodes are heavier than the ones used online, and are tied to a line that keeps them hooked up to the vessel even when they hit bottom. 

“They get deployed off of a vessel, and they go to the bottom,” Simonds said.

That part of the project requires about six primary vessels plus support ships for the crew. SAE will also have marine mammal observers on hand to oversee how the work interfaces with the mammal population.

Simonds said the project will require about 8,000 permits. Those include Alaska Department of Natural Resources permits for various aspects of the seismic work, approval from Alaska State Parks for work in some specific areas, and other permits.

The company is also working on an Incidental Harassment Authorization, which deals with beluga whales. 

Simonds said the first community meetings will be in Ninilchik and Anchor Point Jan. 11 and 12. Meetings in Kasilof and Kenai will come a little later.

Apache has been working in the inlet for the past few years. It received its first leases in the area in August 2010, and was the largest bidder in the Cook Inlet lease sale in June 2011. It’s acreage spans much of the Cook Inlet, from the southern end of the Peninsula near Nikolaevsk, to the northern end, near the Susitna River.

Despite being a Texas company, Hendrix said he sees a lot of Alaska spirit in Apache’s operations.

“We see an opportunity, we seek it, we put a lot of trust in our people to get it done,” Hendrix said.


Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@peninsulaclarion.com.