Unconventional drilling in the Lower 48 has revitalized U.S. natural gas and oil production, but it's time to explore abundant reserves in Alaska, where an existing reserve base of 920 Tcf and 38 billion bbl of liquids awaits development, the National Petroleum Council (NPC) said Friday.
The NPC, a diverse group of 200 appointed by the Secretary of Energy, includes oil and gas industry executives, state regulators, Native Americans, academia, financial research and public interest groups. It's now chaired by former Noble Energy Inc. CEO Chuck Davidson, who presented the draft report to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. The full report is set for publication in April.
"Today, there is both increasing interest in the Arctic for economic opportunity, and concern about the future of the culture of the Arctic peoples and the environment in the face of changing climate and increased human activity," Davidson said. "Other nations, such as Russia and China, are moving forward with Arctic economic development. Facilitating exploration and development in the U.S. Arctic would enhance national, economic and energy security, benefit the people of the north and the U.S. as a whole, and position the U.S. to exercise global leadership."
The report, "Arctic Potential: Realizing the Promise of U.S. Arctic Oil and Gas Resources," comes at an opportune time. In April, the United States assumes chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Also this year, the Obama administration is completing its first quadrennial energy review. Moniz tasked the NPC in October 2013 to conduct three research studies, one centered on opportunities to develop U.S. Arctic oil and natural gas resources.
Theexecutive summaryof the report was sent to Moniz Friday.
The findings were pulled together by an estimable group, with ExxonMobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson chairing the Arctic research study with Deputy Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall. The steering committee included Schlumberger Ltd. CEO Paal Kibsgaard, Shell Oil Co. President Marvin Odum and Chevron Corp. CEO John Watson. Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark D. Myers also served, as well as Fluor Corp. CEO David Seaton and Frank A. Verrastro, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Exploration in the Arctic has resulted in producing more than 550 Tcf of natural gas and 25 billion bbl of liquids, the executive summary said. The numbers are based on a September 2014 estimate by IHS Inc. Additionally, an existing reserve base of 920 Tcf and 38 billion bbl of liquids is estimated, along with an additional 525 billion boe of conventional resource potential, 426 billion boe of which is undiscovered conventional liquids and gas.
"This 426 billion boe represents about 25% of the remaining global undiscovered conventional resource potential," the NPC said. "The majority of the Arctic resource potential is expected to be gas, with about 30% estimated to be liquids." Russia is estimated to have by far the largest Arctic resource potential and should continue to be a dominant player in Arctic energy development, the summary said. "When considering only Arctic oil potential, however, the United States and Russia are assessed to have approximately equal portions of the conventional resource potential with approximately 35 billion bbl of oil each. For the United States, this represents about 15 years of current U.S. net oil imports."
The U.S. Arctic is estimated to have 48 billion boe of offshore undiscovered conventional resource potential, with more than 90% in less than 100 meters of water. The Chukchi and Beaufort Sea Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) combined represent more than 80% of the offshore conventional potential. There has been "limited exploration" to date, with Northstar, which straddles both federal and state waters in Beaufort, the only U.S. Arctic OCS development to date.
Even with a plethora of U.S. onshore reserves, as well as substantial holdings in the Gulf of Mexico, the United States should begin pursuing expanded Arctic exploration now, said the council. Why all the rush?
"The answer to this question lies in the long lead times involved in exploration and development in Alaska, compared with other sources of U.S. oil production, and the potentially transitory nature of the current world oil supply/demand situation," the NPC said. "If development starts now, the long lead times necessary to bring on new crude oil production from Alaska would coincide with a long-term expected decline of U.S. Lower 48 production."
Leasing, exploration, appraisal, development and production take longer in the Arctic than elsewhere. Northstar "took 22 years from lease sale to start of production, while recent Gulf of Mexico deepwater projects such as Mars and Atlantis took 11 and 12 years, respectively."
The U.S. Arctic projects take longer because they are remote, with long supply chains and short exploration seasons because of ice. There's also "regulatory complexity and potential for litigation." That means that developing any significant offshore Arctic opportunity could take between 10 and 30-plus years.
"With a sustained level of leasing and exploration drilling activity over the next 15 years, offshore Alaska could yield material new production by the mid-2030s and sustain this level of production through mid-century and beyond."
The NPC divided the Arctic report into environmental stewardship, economic considerations and policy coordination. It found that a lot could be done to make exploration and development easier. Among other things, technologies used successfully in other offshore areas needs to be transferred for Arctic use. Regulators also need to collaborate with industry to consider dividing the lease period with a development period. Many times, a 10-year lease doesn't provide sufficient time to develop wells because the Arctic drilling season is short.
"The Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior should assess the timelines necessary to progress an offshore exploration and development program, compared with current U.S. lease durations and practices in other jurisdictions," the report said. "Policies and regulations should encourage innovation and enable use of technology advances."