Major milestones in the history of the Swanson River Oil Field

Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2001

The Swanson River Oil Field was Alaska's first producing oil field and, many believe, contributed to Alaska becoming a state. Swanson River remains the only oil field in the state located within a national wildlife refuge.

Unocal now operates the field under a special arrangement with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The field north of Sterling occupies about 12 square miles, including 30 miles of roads, 177 acres of building and storage sites, 35 acres of gravel and sand pits, 60 well pads and assorted construction including bridges, pipes, flare stacks and power lines.

Here are some notable dates relating to the history of Swanson River and the other oil development on the Kenai Peninsula:

1853 -- Russian records note oil seeps on the west side of lower Cook Inlet.

1900 -- Modern oil exploration begins in Alaska at Iniskin and Katalla

1923 -- Congress sets aside petroleum reserves on Alaska's North Slope.

1938 -- Congress establishes the Kenai National Moose Range (now the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge).

1954 -- Oil speculators begin filing leases on the Kenai Peninsula.

1955 -- Richfield files for and begins seismic testing at Swanson River.

1957 -- A test well on July 19 hits oil; July 23 the find is announced; within two days Richfield stock rises 20 points.

1958 -- Voters and Congress approve statehood; second well at Swanson River produces commercial quantities; Chevron starts shipping Swanson River oil to California refineries

1959 -- Alaska becomes the 49th state; first offshore leases in Cook Inlet; Chevron produces 650 barrels a day at Swanson River and plans a pipeline from the field to Nikiski

1962 -- First well (and blowout) at the Middle Ground Shoal off Nikiski.

1965 -- Atlantic merges with Richfield, eventually becoming Arco.

1967 -- Nearby Beaver Creek gas field, also in the wildlife refuge, begins.

1968 -- The state of Alaska attempts to peg all Cook Inlet region oil wellhead values to the Swanson River price.

1969 -- Swanson River oil production peaks at 40,000 barrels per day.

1972 -- Compressor plant explodes.

1977 -- A corroded water tank collapses, starting a chain-reaction and fire that destroys three buildings and four other tanks.

1984 -- A cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination begins that will cost $40 million, last eight years and incinerate more than 107,000 tons of soil.

1986 -- Arco Alaska replaces Chevron as the field's operator; a gas blowout requires a cleanup crew from Texas and closure of one well.

1988 -- Xylene, a carcinogen, is found at a storage site (and the cleanup is still continuing).

1991 -- A pinhole leak in a corroded line releases 630 gallons of crude and about 5,000 gallons of produced water.

1992 -- Unocal replaces Arco as the field's operator.

1994 -- A corroded flow line spills about 2,000 gallons of crude underground.

1995 -- About 400 gallons of crude is found on the ground; Unocal begins a program to restore or replace all aging piping.

1996 -- Corrosion on a flow line releases nearly 2,000 gallons of produced water.

1999 -- A snowmachiner discovers a leak near the waste-water building that released 10,500 gallons of produced water; after investigating 68 drill sites for traces of contamination, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation signs off on them as clean.



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