Remote offshore oil prospects draw no interest

Posted: Friday, June 27, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) No oil companies have expressed interest in exploring for oil in remote seas off the northwest Alaska coast, officials said.

The Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore oil drilling, had invited companies in the spring to say whether, and where, they would like to explore in Norton Sound, the Hope Basin and the far-north Chukchi Sea.

That no one spoke up did not surprise federal officials and a veteran Alaska oil industry consultant.

''These frontier areas could have a great amount of resources, but because of their remoteness they also have high costs associated with exploring and developing any resources that might be found,'' said John Goll, Alaska director for the Minerals Management Service.

The agency put out the call for interest rather than go to the expense of preparing a formal lease sale complete with public hearings and environmental studies.

Had any companies shown interest, a lease sale could have been prepared, Minerals Management Service spokeswoman Robin Cacy told the Anchorage Daily News. The agency promised to put out the same invitation next year.

Ken Boyd, a former state oil director now working as a private consultant, said the frontier areas, particularly the Chukchi Sea, have great oil and gas potential but they are far from existing oil field pipelines and processing plants.

''It might as well be on the moon right now,'' he said of the Chukchi.

As the oil patch expands west, linking up new fields such as Alpine and prospects in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the distant offshore prospects become more feasible, he said.

Oil companies bought leases and drilled a handful of wells in Norton Sound and the Chukchi in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Prospects are best in the Chukchi, which the Minerals Management Service says has a good chance of holding 15 billion barrels of oil and 60 trillion cubic feet of gas, roughly comparable to the existing North Slope oil fields.

Boyd said industry interest in the Chukchi is bound to swing up again because of its promising geology.

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