On track: Oil, gas representatives see what peninsula offers

Posted: Monday, May 16, 2005

Former Alaska Gov. Steve Cowper, who now lives in Austin, Texas, is back in Alaska this week. Not as a politician, however, but as a representative of a company with ties to the oil industry.

Cowper, along with other state and industry representatives from around the United States and Canada, kicked off a three-day midyear summit for the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) in Anchorage with a tour of the Kenai Peninsula on Saturday— by train and bus.

The IOGCC is an organization of oil and natural gas producing states. It meets four times per year to regulate the industry by gathering and sharing information, technology and regulatory methods.

While the goal of the summit, which goes until Tuesday, was to discuss new natural gas and other relevant energy issues, the tour had some more specific goals.

"We wanted to show them a good time," said Dan Seamount, commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC). He added that the commission wants to educate people about Cook Inlet and show them its oil and gas potential.

The AOGCC is a quasi-judicial state agency that protects public interest in oil and gas resources and protects underground drinking water supplies.

The AOGCC also coordinated this event.

Mark Carl, federal projects director for the IOGCC, said he was just enjoying the train ride and the sights along the way. While guests were enjoying mountains and wildlife, business and development was also discussed at points during the tour.

"We are very interested in encouraging more independent companies to come to Alaska," said Gov. Frank Murkowski in remarks to the group at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai.

Murkowski accompanied the group on the train. He is also the IOGCC chair.

An excursion to the ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil Company liquefied natural gas plant was part of the Kenai Peninsula tour.

Other participants in the summit toured the North Slope.

Cook Inlet's oil and gas industry has been the subject of a lot of discussion lately. Proven oil reserves are projected to be depleted by 2016 and natural gas here has had an overall decline while prices have skyrocketed. But many believe there is a lot of potential for future development in the region.

Seamount is one of them. In a February speech, he said only a fraction of the oil in the inlet has been found.

Scott Jepsen, Cook Inlet assets manager for ConocoPhillips Alaska, said high natural gas prices may make the region attractive for capital investment, although it is an expensive place to do business.

"There's a lot of potential in the Inlet," Jepsen said.

"There are people in Texas who are looking for opportunity in Cook Inlet. They regard prospects as promising," Cowper, the former Alaska governor, said.

Cowper was representing Alberta-based Wescorp Energy, a company that develops technology to help with oil recovery.

He said he hoped to get a better feel for the region while he was here.

Cowper said high oil and gas prices have drawn more companies to Alaska.

"There's people that will cautiously tell you there is still an elephant out there," he said, referring to a major oil find.

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