State seeks more info on Prudhoe work plan

The state Division of Oil and Gas wants significantly more information from Prudhoe Bay field operator BP and its fellow working owners on how a scaled-back work plan for this year could impact prospects for a gasline down the road.

Oil and Gas Director Corri Feige wrote a letter to senior BP Alaska officials April 11 asking more than a dozen technical questions related to a major gas sales project including drilling plans, management of carbon dioxide pulled from Prudhoe natural gas, gas balancing agreements and efforts to market the gas.

BP’s 2016 Prudhoe Bay Plan of Development, or POD, submitted to the division March 31 included its estimates for production decline after it idles several rigs and reduces its well workovers this year.

BP stated the lost drilling time could result in a production decline of between 20,000 barrels and 60,000 barrels per day.

The Plan of Development focuses on drilling work for oil recovery but only briefly and very generally touches on preparing for gas offtake, currently planned to support the Alaska LNG Project. AK LNG is a $45 billion-plus project involving the State of Alaska and major North Slope producers BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil who are the working interest owners at Prudhoe.

“The (Prudhoe Bay Unit) working interest owners will continue to evaluate viable plans and incorporate into the current plan of development to further optimize gas and oil recovery, and to address facilities, equipment, wells and operational changes to position for major gas sales,” the development plan states.

Feige indicated that the division wouldn’t approve the plan without the additional information it requested, writing that “absent this further detail, the Division cannot evaluate whether the POD meets regulatory critieria.”

Oil and gas unit annual development plan deadlines are based on when the unit was originally formed and therefore do not follow a strict calendar year.

Now-retired Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Myers sent a letter to unit operators across the state in January notifying them that future unit development plans will need to include the additional information.

Myers wrote that DNR is “working proactively to ensure maximum development and monetization of Alaska’s energy resources.” 

Consequently, the state needs to understand how all hydrocarbons available for offtake are being used, sold within the state or prepped for future sale, according to Myers.

Feige said in an interview that it is the administration’s priority to use that information to determine if there is gas that could be captured for in-state use. Commercially sensitive information would be kept confidential, she added.

Anything learned from Cook Inlet basin natural gas producers could be used to “think outside the box” about how the state can possibly help find or generate new markets for Inlet gas, according to Feige.

Limited demand for Inlet gas has been the primary impediment to increased production from the basin in recent years and led to fears of supply shortages in 2012.

The division is anticipating “pretty broad-brush responses” to set a baseline of information that can be added to each year, she said.

“For the state and certainly for the division it’s about understanding the resource in a unit that may be available, timeframes, maximizing the oil and when do we start looking at and thinking about those future production resources,” Feige said.

Regarding marketing, the state asked BP to provide “the identity of the parties with whom the current commercial agreement(s) are being negotiated, or with whom each WIO intends to have substantive discussions regarding the marketing of unit hydrocarbons including unit gas, and the commercial terms under which each WIO is offering to make resources available for long-term sale, including: the estimated volumes to be delivered, the pricing terms, the location at which title to the gas and associated risks of loss will change, and the condition of gas at the time of delivery.”

Feige called specific references in the April 11 letter to marketing efforts for major gas sales an “unintended consequence” of wording, noting that the original state lease forms grant lessees rights for exploration, development, production, process and marketing of oil and gas from the lease area.