Development of unconventional energy resources in Alaska—including heavy oil and methane hydrates—could be accelerated under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the US Department of Energy (DOE). Under the MOU, DNR and DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy will work together—and with potential investors—to study unconventional energy resources in Alaska’s Arctic.
The Alaska North Slope has two of the largest conventional oil fields in North America (Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk) as well as several other smaller but still significant fields. The state also has significant unconventional petroleum and natural gas resources, including both heavy oil and methane hydrate deposits.
On the North Slope, it has been estimated that as much as 20 billion to 25 billion barrels of heavy oil are contained within shallow, regionally extensive sands.
Essentially molecules of natural gas trapped in ice crystals, methane hydrates represent a potentially enormous energy resource, possibly exceeding the combined energy content of all other fossil fuels. The US Geological Survey (USGS) has estimated a potentially recoverable resource of 85 trillion cubic feet of gas in favorable hydrate accumulations on the Alaska North Slope alone.
Under the agreement, DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy will be responsible for developing R&D opportunities in Alaska and providing scientific expertise and resources in support of projects. This will be achieved by FE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) through collaborations with various federal, industry, international and academic partners.
Alaska will use its best efforts to resolve land access issues, arrange for the leasing of state land, and coordinate infrastructure, logistics, permitting and regulation where appropriate. These efforts will support the assessment of unconventional energy resources and the field evaluation of potential production technologies through scientific tests, and may involve facilitating access to land within existing units, un-leased acreage and leased acreage on state lands.
Alaska will also support DOE by providing scientific review and interpretations of data through the divisions of Oil and Gas and Geologic and Geophysical Surveys. Alaska will also participate in periodic reviews of all scientific data and reports collected or created during the course of the MOU.