ConocoPhillips shaking things up in hunt for oil

Anchor Point seismic exploration looks promising

Posted: Sunday, October 09, 2005

ConocoPhillips is preparing to conduct an extensive seismic survey in Lower Cook Inlet off Anchor Point this fall that the company hopes will demonstrate the potential for oil or gas in an area known as the Cosmopolitan Unit.

Veritas DGC Inc. will do the geophysical survey for ConocoPhillips. Veritas recently acquired Fairweather Geophysical, a company that has 15 years experience collecting seismic data in Cook Inlet.

Meanwhile, Pioneer Natural Resources Company, of Irving, Texas, announced Aug. 1 that its Alaska subsidiary had acquired a 10 percent interest in the Cosmopolitan Unit, with an option to acquire as much as 40 percent more, depending on the results of the seismic survey.

According to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, Veritas was expected to begin the 3-D survey between Sept. 5 and Nov. 15. The survey will extend about six miles to the northwest of Anchor Point and cover approximately 30 square miles of federal Outer Continental Shelf waters, according to an MMS environmental assessment prepared for the project.

A portion of the survey area will extend from the boundary of the OCS region to shore on the Kenai Peninsula. The state portion of the survey was to be assessed separately by the state.

Veritas is expected to deploy up to three vessels to conduct the seismic tests, which could require as many as 80 passes through the survey area, MMS said. A pair of towed four-airgun arrays will be used to explosively release high-pressure air — an energy pulse that bounces off the inlet floor and the strata below. Reflected signals will be picked up by hydrophones attached to long cables (about 1,700 meters in length) towed by one of the vessels. The resulting audio data will be analyzed to show the presence of oil and gas in the strata below the inlet.

The airgun system has almost entirely replaced the use of explosives for such seismic testing.

Dawn Patience, an Anchorage spokesperson for ConocoPhillips, would only confirm that operations were in the preparation phase.

The Minerals Management Service requires adherence to a set of mitigation measures, and must make sure that the testing program produce no pollution, that it cause no undue harm to aquatic life, that it create no hazardous or unsafe conditions, or unreasonably interfere with other uses of the area. Those provisions also include guidelines for avoiding harassment of Cook Inlet whales.

In July, MMS issued a finding of no significant impacts for the geophysical survey of the Cosmopolitan Unit and said no environmental impact statement was required. It based that decision on favorable findings detailed in an EIS filed the November 2003 that assessed the general effects of seismic surveys in Lower Cook Inlet in anticipation of multiple future oil and gas lease sales.

Three wells already drilled in the 25,000-acre unit have reportedly established a significant column of oil, according to a Pioneer Natural Resources press release. The seismic survey, PNR said, was meant to "refine the estimate of recoverable reserves."

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