The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service recently hosted a public scoping meeting to discuss the Shadura natural gas development project located in the northwestern portion of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
At the March 20 meeting, Fish and Wildlife officials gathered public comment and answered questions about Nordaq Energy’s right-of-way application to construct and operate facilities associated with further exploration and production of natural gas in the area north of Nikiski.
Specifically, Nordaq wants to install a natural gas drilling pad to produce in the area and also build an about 4.27-mile gravel road from the Kenai Spur Highway to the pad near Captain Cook State Park.
Fish and Wildlife is currently in the process of preparing an environmental impact statement to weigh the project’s environmental and socioeconomic impacts with providing “adequate and feasible access” to the area, as required. Fish and Wildlife owns the surface area and the subsurface estate has been leased from Cook Inlet Region Inc. to Nordaq for production.
The EIS will evaluate a range of alternative routes other than the proposed route that would allow access to the proposed pad.
“The bottom line here is that it is not a question of whether this will be developed, it is how these resources are going to be developed,” said Dave Cameron of Arcadis, a company charged with handling the EIS process. “They will have access to get on the refuge and extract the natural gas.”
In the fall of 2010 Nordaq announced its plans to explore for gas and built an ice road into the area where the company drilled an exploratory well after a permitting phase.
Nordaq President Bob Warthen said crews weren’t able to get on location until early February of 2011 due to adverse weather conditions.
“We weren’t able to do everything that we could from an analytical standpoint so we moved the rig off the location around the 15th or 18th of March,” he said.
In order to build the ice road, Nordaq cut down about 600 feet of trees, Warthen said, which were replanted along the path in September in addition to cleaning up any other debris left as a result of the ice road.
This winter, Warthen said, crews wanted to get back to the well to finish up some analytical work so they built a snow trail and used low pressure and track vehicles to access the area.
“We’re very content with what we found,” Warthen said in regard to the exploratory well.
The pad they want to construct now is about 6,000 feet east of where the exploratory well was located. The pad would hold up to six wells that would use directional drilling to explore in all directions around and below. The pad will be near the existing Swanson River unit.
“That was developed in some of the earlier years where they had a lot of wells and everything, but what we’re trying to do is have one central pad,” he said of the Swanson unit.
There are four alternative routes proposed to access the pad, including some that branch off the Spur Highway and some that lead in from the Swanson River unit.
“To be quite frank, the ice road was quite expensive, so to do the project right we need to go through the EIS process and build a gravel road and a gravel pad,” Warthen said. “That’s the most efficient way to do that.”
The road and any pipe used to transport the gas could take different routes. Tying the pipe into the existing network would require a commercial agreement with ConocoPhillips or Hilcorp Alaska. Nordaq has had conversations with the two companies, but no contract is set, Warthen said.
“The thing about it is that we won’t drill the wells unless we can sell the gas,” he said. “If the market demands the amount of gas that we can produce, then we will drill the wells. But if the market only demands gas that three wells will satisfy those needs, then we will only drill three wells.”
Along with the road and pad, the EIS will examine Nordaq’s proposed water wells, disposal wells, gathering lines, microwave relay towers, communication cables, a metering pad and other production facilities. Warthen said the facilities will be placed on state-owned leases closer to the Spur Highway and not on refuge land.
Refuge Manager Andy Loranger said Nordaq “has been a good company to work with” and its prior exploratory well and ice road went well.
Loranger said Fish and Wildlife will examine several environmental aspects of the project including air and water quality, hydrology and affects to anadromous streams.
“The project is going to happen so our goal is to see that the development occurs in the most environmentally sensitive way possible,” he said. “We will be working through the EIS process and directly with the company to ensure that’s the case.”
The EIS statement is scheduled for release in July or August with a record of decision scheduled for December of this year.
Public comments for the scoping project are due to Fish and Wildlife by April 13. Comments will also be accepted after the EIS draft is released, Loranger said.
Residents can send their comments in an email to Peter Wikoff at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax to 907-786-3965.