Total manager lays out plan for oil exploration

Posted: Monday, June 02, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Paris-based oil giant Total will soon start drilling on the North Slope, according to the company's Alaska representative.

Jack Bergeron, Alaska manager for Total, began the job in January. He told oil field contractors, bankers, equipment dealers and other people at a Petroleum Club breakfast that the company is chasing aggressive targets for increasing its global oil production.

Besides that, Bergeron, a veteran oil man with a petroleum engineering degree from the University of Texas, said he's still busy outfitting an Anchorage office for his small but growing troupe of Total employees.

Total bills itself as the world's fourth-largest international oil and gas company. The company has 121,000 employees worldwide and produces oil and gas in 27 countries with emphasis on the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

It pumps 2.4 million barrels of oil and gas a day more than twice the North Slope's current production. Until recently, the company was known as TotalFinaElf, a name fused from Total's mergers in the late 1990s with Belgian oil company Petrofina and French rival Elf Aquitaine.

On May 6 in Paris, shareholders voted to trim the name to Total.

''Very little of our income comes from North America,'' Bergeron told the breakfast crowd. ''We're going to change that.''

With U.S. operations based out of Houston, Total is aggressively developing projects in the deep water Gulf of Mexico, he said.

Total's target in Alaska is the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, an Indiana-sized chunk of federal land set aside for its oil potential in 1923. The reserve is west of Prudhoe Bay and other major North Slope oil fields.

Last June, Total bid $53 million to lease 229,000 acres on the reserve's east side, where other oil companies including Conoco Phillips and Anadarko have struck oil and plan developments.

Total last winter did seismic testing on its land and the company plans to drill its first exploration well next winter on prospects south of huge Teshekpuk Lake, Bergeron said. Total has lined up contractors Fairweather to help with permits and Nabors to bring in a drilling rig.

So far, Total's presence in Alaska is tiny. The company has only four employees here, including Bergeron and his drilling manager, Jean-Francois Prost. Bergeron said he plans to add a fifth employee this summer.

It's a humble beginning for an oil behemoth, but Total has big ambitions on the North Slope.

''We consider Alaska to have one of the largest exploration potentials in the whole world,'' Bergeron said.

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