US Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced legislation that would allow the use of advanced directional drilling to tap the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) coastal plain. The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, would allow access to the coastal plain’s oil and natural gas resources through the use of underground directional drilling from state-owned lands to the west of the refuge and state waters from the north.
The legislation seeks to find a compromise with those concerned with preserving the 1.5 million acre coastal plain while still tapping into ANWR to increase domestic production of oil and gas.
Directional drilling would allow energy companies to reach oil deposits up to eight miles away with no surface occupancy in the refuge. The bill is based on the compromise reached in the Wyoming Range Legacy Act of 2007, which permitted resources to be accessed underground through directional drilling in a new wilderness area as long as there was no permanent surface impacts.
Advances in directional drilling now permit multilateral drilling, where multiple offshoots of a single wellbore radiate in different directions and can contact resources at different depths, according to the American Petroleum Institute (API). Development of this technology is recent and rapid, and promotes the use of one site instead of many sites.
To be able to accommodate drilling away from the vertical plane, operators are using coiled tubing technology. Coiled tubing is a continuous-length hollow steel cylinder of varying widths. Stored on a reel, coiled tubing is flexible, contains no joints, and can be uncoiled or coiled repeatedly as needed.
Recent advancements in slimhole drilling have also significantly reduced cuttings form drill bits as they bite through rock. As the name suggests, the slimhole drill is smaller and displaces less rock. For example, the API notes, a slimhole drilled to more than 2 1/2 miles in depth and ending with a 4 1/8-inch-diameter bottomhole produces one-third fewer cuttings than a standard well at the same depth.
Both coiled tubing and slimhole drilling enable less disruptive, quieter drilling operations, minimizing the noise for wildlife or humans near the well site. The smaller size of coiled-tube drilling also cuts fuel use and reduces gas emissions when compared with traditional drilling.
Directional drilling provides a great opportunity to tap the Arctic refuge’s vast oil and gas potential with minimal disruption to the wild lands and the wildlife which depend on them. I have been a long-time supporter of this cutting-edge technology.—Senator Mark Begich
Revenue raised from development of ANWR would be distributed evenly between the state and federal treasuries. The bill also includes $15 million of mitigation impact aid to North Slope residents. A portion of the federal proceeds would also be dedicated to renewable energy, energy efficiency and wildlife habitat and mitigation programs nationwide.
The Department of the Interior estimates that more than 1 billion barrels of oil and 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas available within eight miles of the western edge of ANWR, and are reachable through directional drilling. While this represents only 10% of the oil and about 80% of the gas estimated to be contained beneath the refuge, future advances in directional drilling technology could allow companies to extract an ever increasing amount of the area’s resources.
The US Geological Survey estimates the ANWR coastal plain contains between 10 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil, and 8.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas&mash;making it the largest undeveloped onshore conventional oil deposit in North America.
In May 2008, the Energy Information Administration, in response to a request from Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, concluded that in the mean case, opening of the full Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR 1002 Area) to oil and natural gas development would result in additional oil production of a peak 780,000 barrels per day in 2027. That would result in trimming $0.75 (in 2006 dollars) off the projected cost of a barrel of oil, according to the EIA. (Earlier post.)