KENAI (AP) -- Spread out among the aging but still producing reservoirs of oil and natural gas beneath Cook Inlet lie pockets of product cut off from the main pools by geologic formations, according to available high-tech seismic data.
Oil production companies won't drill to them, however, because the amount of product they contain is thought to be too small to be profitable, too small to warrant the expense and risk under existing state land leasing rates.
But what if that equation could be altered so that those pockets looked more attractive to inlet oil and gas companies? An idea proposed by a group of Kenai Peninsula businessmen might provide oil companies with just such an incentive.
Among those who first floated the idea were Dan Ungrue, a superintendent with Peak Oilfield Services, Jim Evans, manager of Air Liquide America, a Houston, Texas-based supplier of welding equipment and industrial gases, and former Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Jack Brown, now business manager of the borough's Community and Economic Development Division.
What began a year ago as casual conversation about how to keep the oil industry alive and well in Cook Inlet has turned into a draft Senate bill -- yet to be introduced -- which proposes a one-year waiver on all state royalty payments for wells drilled to tap so-called ''orphan'' pools in Cook Inlet.
Ungrue said the proposed legislation was not an oil industry idea, and oil companies, as far as he knows, are not lobbying for it at this time. But he believes the idea has merit and that the industry will support it, once legislation is introduced.
Cook Inlet's reserves of oil and gas are dwindling, Ungrue said. But high-tech seismic readings show pockets of product that might be profitable if the companies get some tax relief. The marginal reserves also could extend the life of the Cook Inlet oil and gas industry by a decade or more, he said.
Just how much product is there the oil companies aren't saying. That remains an industry trade secret. But in Ungrue's opinion, if those pockets aren't pumped soon, they may languish below ground forever. The infrastructure needed to tap them -- the platforms, drilling equipment, pipelines and personnel -- is here now.
Indeed, some currently producing platforms actually lose money. But dismantling them is so costly, it is cheaper to keep pumping while waiting until such time as several platforms might be dismantled at one time, Ungrue said.
''One day you'll wake up and they'll be gone,'' he said.
Thus, the time to tap marginal fields is now.
''From what I understand, I think (a royalty waiver) could extend oil production's life as much as 10 years,'' said Jim Evans, who also is president of the Kenai chapter of the Support Industry Alliance, which he said has been promoting responsible development in Alaska for 25 years. The lost royalties wouldn't mean much in terms of revenues to the state, he added, but extending the life of Cook Inlet fields would mean a great deal to the local economy.
''It would provide a lot of high-paying jobs,'' Evans said.
A draft bill prepared by the Legislative Affairs Agency proposes amending the oil and gas leasing provisions of the Alaska Land Act by granting the one-year waiver of royalty payments to companies that go after certain carefully defined orphan pools.
Existing language in the Alaska Lands Act already contains a tax break cutting the royalty in certain marginal Cook Inlet fields from 12.5 percent to 5 percent on the first 25 million barrels of oil and the first 35 billion cubic feet of gas. Those fields were discovered prior to 1988 and have been undeveloped or shut in from at least January 1988 through December 1997.
They include fields at Falls Creek, Nicolai Creek, North Fork, Point Starichkof, Redoubt Shoal and West Foreland. That tax break was meant to encourage their production.
The tax waiver proposed in the draft legislation would not only wipe out the remaining 5 percent on those fields, but also would apply to some orphan pools around existing reservoirs elsewhere in Cook Inlet Basin, according to Jack Chenoweth, a legal counsel with the Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency's Division of Legal and Research Services.
While certain other fields covered under tax-break provisions in a separate section of the law would not be eligible for the waiver, the waiver would apply to orphan pools positioned around main reservoirs yet to be discovered, Chenoweth said.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.