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Northstar plan fuels questions, interest

Posted: Sunday, March 04, 2001

The public raised numerous concerns during Wednesday meetings on the proposal to develop a gas field on the North Fork Road near Anchor Point.

"Probably the most significant had to do with protection of drinking water and anadromous resources (salmon, Dolly Varden and trout) in the Anchor River, which is only half a mile away from the proposed well head," said Bob Shavelson of the Homer environmental group Cook Inlet Keeper.

But those were framed against the hope for a new supply of clean, low-cost energy for the south peninsula, he said.

"There are a lot of people interested in having access to the gas," he said. "There's discussion that the gas coming from the North Fork unit would be shipped north, and largely bypass the area that produced it. One of my comments was that, in light of the export of the majority of Cook Inlet gas, that there be some assurance of using local gas locally, first."

Northstar Energy Group Inc. of Tulsa, Okla., proposes to drill about 12 miles east of Anchor Point in Section 35, Township 4 South, Range 14 West. Shavelson said that is off the North Fork Road near Holly Lane, between Nikolaevsk and Epperson Knob. About 50 people attended a state meeting on the proposal at Chapman Elementary School in Anchor Point, and about 70 attended a subsequent forum sponsored by the Community Rivers Planning Coalition.

Keith Summar, Northstar vice president for exploration, said the well would be on state land about 2,000 feet from the North Fork of the Anchor River.

Northstar would build a 1.5 acre gravel pad and a 250-foot access road. It would use water-based drilling muds. It would drill a water well and draw an initial 100,000 gallons to mix the muds. Then, it would draw about 5,000 gallons per day to maintain the muds and wash the cuttings.

Northstar initially proposed a water well 100 feet deep, he said, but it learned at Wednesday's meetings that a 100-foot well would tap the same aquifer as residential wells. So, Northstar will drill deeper, he said.

"The last thing we want to do is affect people's water supplies," he said.

Northstar will inject the drilling muds through the well casing into geologic layers far below the aquifers that supply residential wells, he said.

It will test to be sure the cuttings are free of heavy metals, then dump them at the Homer landfill. Or, if they contain hazardous contaminants, Northstar will incinerate them in Anchorage, he said.

"The metals are vaporized. That becomes an air pollution problem. But the state has a threshold before you need a permit," he said. "The rock melts at a low temperature. You end up with a glassy slag you can use for fill. It's completely clean."

Cathy Mayer, solid waste director for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said the landfill likely would accept the cuttings if they are proven free of petroleum products, heavy metals and other hazardous contaminants.

The state generally bans drilling for oil and gas within half a mile of Kenai Peninsula salmon streams unless there are environmental reasons, such as avoiding wetlands, to drill closer. Northstar proposes drilling just 2,000 feet from the North Fork of the Anchor River.

"Geologically, it's the best location," Summar said. "Topographi-cally, it's the best. It's atop a hill. It's a flat location away from the river."

Pressures are low in Cook Inlet fields, making a blow-out extremely unlikely, he said. Even so, there will be a two-foot-high earthen berm around the drilling pad -- enough to contain a 20,000-barrel spill. He said the North Fork Road, which is ditched on both sides, provides additional protection.

However, the state has not yet approved the location for the well.

"It may end up being moved," Summar said. "If it is, we'll deal with it. It makes it more expensive, because then you're talking about a directional well. But it would still be economic."

He said he was not sure whether moving the well further from the river would put it on private land. It would put the hilltop between the well and the river, he said.

Shavelson said Northstar needs a better understanding of local hydrology to avoid harming residential wells.

"Their diagrams of how they were going to draw from the aquifer and reinject waste were very simplified," he said.

However, he said, the project clearly is viable.

"They've done their homework," he said. "If gas is their ultimate goal, we're not going to raise a lot of noise about it. If they find oil, that raises additional concerns for protecting resources."

Summar said Northstar plans to work the peninsula for many years to come.

"We're going to do the best job we can with the coming well. We don't want to make a big mess. We don't want to make a lot of people mad. We want to be a good neighbor," he said. "We feel the project is a worthy one. It will bring natural gas to people who don't have it, and it's a clean fuel. It's very possible to do it right, and that's what we plan to do."

The Alaska Division of Governmental Coordination is reviewing the Northstar proposal for consistency with the state and Kenai Peninsula Borough coastal management plans. Public comments are due by March 14 to Glenn Gray, Division of Governmental Coordination, P.O. Box 110030, Juneau, Alaska 99811-0030. Comments also may be faxed to Gray at 465-3075 or e-mailed to Glenn_Gray@gov.state.ak.us.

For information, call Gray at 1-(907)-465-8792.



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