Apr 25, 2017 - 5:00pm

This Experiment Could Mean Big Things for Oil in Alaska

Senior Editor, Digital Content


The Trans-Alaska Pipeline stands near Copperville, Alaska.
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline stands near Copperville, Alaska.

The shale boom might reach the ”Last Frontier,” the Anchorage Daily News reports:

An oil explorer hoping to bring the Lower 48's fracking revolution to Alaska will take a big step this week when it launches an effort to determine the production potential of crude oil locked in North Slope shale.

The process is expected to start Wednesday, when Accumulate Energy Alaska begins drilling an exploration well along the Dalton Highway about 40 miles south of Prudhoe Bay.

In June, it plans to hydraulically fracture that vertical well, using water, chemicals and sand to crack and hold open rock so oil flows from the shale. A production test to determine how the well oil flows is also expected this summer.

There’s big potential. One company thinks fracking could unlock 3.6 billion barrels of oil.

A boost in oil production would be a win for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Oil production on the North Slope has been declining since the late 1980s, along with the amount of oil moving through the pipeline. As oil flow decreases, it gets harder to move through the pipeline in Alaska’s frigid winters.

What’s more, under law if the pipeline stops operating, it must be dismantled. Rebuilding it would not only cost billions but face protests from “Keep it in the ground” extremists like we’ve seen with the Keystone XL pipeline, the nearly-operational Dakota Access Pipeline, and in the Northeast.

While small-scale fracking has been going on for decades in Alaska, it hasn't to the extent of what’s been happening in Texas or North Dakota. Bloomberg notes that new technology and state policy changes opened the door to the technique:

Until recently, companies also didn’t have underground imaging technology good enough to peer beneath the Arctic permafrost and pinpoint shale reserves below.

Now that’s changing. State tax breaks passed earlier this decade have encouraged explorers to give shale a look, and 3-D seismic imaging technology allows them to make a more educated guess about what’s below.

Perhaps Alaska shale could challenge the levels of top shale oil regions in the Lower 48.

Cost will play a major factor in fracking’s success in Alaska. As State Sen. Bill Wielechowski, asked, "I've heard the potential is tremendous, but is it affordable?" It will be a logistical challenge to get the water, sand, and chemicals for fracking on the remote North Slope. But it's not insurmountable knowing that for three decades, companies have successfully delivered the equipment and materials needed to produce billions of barrels of oil from the region.

Beyond fracking, Alaska could regain some luster as an oil-producing state. Earlier this year, two companies, Repsol and Armstrong Oil & Gas, announced it discovered an oil field on the North Slope that could contain as much as 1.2 billion barrels of oil. It’s the largest find in the U.S. in 30 years.

If any of these plays pans out it could mean the Trans-Alaska Pipeline will continue to be a valuable piece of American energy infrastructure for years to come. In addition, Americans would continue to have access to the abundant energy necessary to power our economy and sell to hungry energy markets.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.