Buccaneer prefers subsea system to develop its Cosmopolitan site

Independent oil and gas explorer Buccaneer Energy says it would prefer a subsea production system for the development of Cosmopolitan, an oil and gas deposit the company is now testing in Cook Inlet.

It would be the first subsea development in the inlet, where conventional platforms have operated since the 1960s. Buccaneer is one of several independent companies now active in southern Alaska.

Subsea production systems are common in the North Sea, Gulf of Mexico and other offshore regions producing oil and gas.

“My view is that subsea is one of the technologies that could prove an economic and environmental alternative to a platform,” Curtis Burton, Buccaneer’s CEO, said in an interview this week in Anchorage.

“The concept I would like to explore is developing protected subsea structures that might be done for much less cost than a platform. A platform is still our fallback but we will look carefully at a subsea development which might be less costly and would be less environmentally intrusive,” Burton said.

“It is far too early to say it is a definitive option but it is a specialty area for me and one that should be considered,” he said.

Burton has an extensive technical background in developing subsea oil and gas production systems from his work previous to forming Buccaneer in 2007.

Cosmopolitan is an oil and gas discovery that has been known for years and previously tested with extended-reach wells drilled from shore by ARCO Alaska and Pioneer Natural Resources. The deposit is about three miles offshore Anchor Point, on the east side of Cook Inlet. 

Based on the previous drilling and testing Cosmopolitan has an estimated 31.2 million barrels of oil equivalent of proven reserves and 55.2 million barrels of proven and probable reserves of oil equivalent

Technical problems with testing through horizontal wells drilled through extensive coal seams prevented ARCO and Pioneer from doing a complete evaluation of the deposit, however.

Buccaneer is now drilling Cosmo No. 1, a vertical test well, with the Endeavour jack-up rig that was brought to Cook Inlet last year. Previously, ARCO and Pioneer did not have access to a jack-up rig and attempted to do tests with wells drilled from shore.

Vertical wells will allow more thorough evaluation and testing, and the jack-up rig can also be used to drill production wells, Buccaneer has said previously. 

Cosmo No. 1 is now at 2,000 feet with casing set in preparation to drill to a total depth of 8,000 feet, Buccaneer said in a press release issued Tuesday.

The company plans to do a production test of known shallow gas prospects and to extract core for an evaluation of the deeper oil deposit. Cosmopolitan’s location is an advantage because it is in shallow water relatively close to shore, and there is an existing gas pipeline nearby.

Burton said his company hopes to complete its initial work at Cosmopolitan in the next 30 days and will then move the Endeavour to drill prospects in north Cook Inlet, returning to Cosmopolitan for further work later this year.

If Buccaneer pursues a subsea development it may ease concerns that local residents and commercial fishermen might have with a conventional production platform. The area is popular for recreation and summer commercial and sports fishing, and a platform three miles offshore a scenic highway might not be popular locally.

“I know of nothing that would preclude a subsea production system anywhere in Cook Inlet. Elsewhere, (subsea) pipeline distances of up to 50 miles are easily accomplished,” Burton said.

Prior to forming Buccaneer Burton worked extensively on offshore development. He was a founder and CEO of Nautilus Marine Technologies and, previously, Total Offshore Production Service, a subsidiary of Reading and Bates Corp. 

In a prior position with Texaco he was one of the principal directors in development of DeepSTAR, a deepwater technology vehicle. 

Meanwhile, another independent company now exploring in Cook Inlet, Furie Alaska Operating, plans to rely on conventional platform technology, however. The Houston-based company soon be testing its Kitchen Lights Unit No. 3 exploration well using a second jack-up rig, the Spartan 151.

The Kitchen Lights prospects are in the middle of northern Cook Inlet, south of ConocoPhillips’ Tyonek gas-production platform.

Furie’s plans for development call for a conventional platform that would support pipelines to shore, if oil and gas resources found at KLU No. 3 and nearby KLU No. 1 drilled in 2011 are economic to develop. The company has filed permit applications for a platform near the Kitchen Lights exploration wells.

Meanwhile, in its onshore Kenai Peninsula exploration, Buccaneer hopes to drill and explore an onshore prospect east of Homer, West Eagle later this year, Burton said. 

Either a company owned mobile drill rig or a lighter-weight truck-mounted rig will be used. The heavier company-owned rig would require some improvements on the East End road but those would not be significant, the company’s external affairs manager Richard Loomis said. However, at this point Buccaneer’s preference is to use the lighter truck unit which would require no modifications, he said.