Alaska's North Slope "has plenty of potential" providing some assumptions are met, not the least among them is the development of a natural gas pipeline, which would commercialize the region's vast reserves and even extend interest in further oil exploration, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

"The construction of a 4.5 Bcf/d Alaska gas pipeline by 2015 and the ability to sell gas from the Prudhoe Bay and Point Thomson fields will nearly double the revenue to the stakeholders (state of Alaska, federal government and industry)," the report said. "New oil and gas discoveries catalyzed by the gas pipeline will further increase revenues."

For decades Alaskans have dreamed of a conduit to market for North Slope gas. The state is considering a project proposal from TransCanada; a proposal for a competing project from ConocoPhillips is not off lawmakers' table despite being dismissed by Alaska's governor (see NGI, Jan. 28; Jan. 14; Jan. 7).

The "Alaska North Slope Oil and Gas: A Promising Future or an Area in Decline?" report considers an oil-centered near term of 2005-2015 and a long-term view of 2015-2050 in which natural gas plays an emerging role in exploration and development. A North Slope gasline is at the top of the report's list of seven assumptions, which combined make for a "very promising" outlook; take some away and the view grows cloudier. The assumptions are:

"If all assumptions were to occur, an additional 36 billion barrels of oil and 137 Tcf of natural gas would be added over current reserve estimates," said the report, which was prepared by the DOE Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory.

From 2005 to 2015, exploration is forecast to add about 2.9 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil and 12 Tcf of economically recoverable gas. Discovered recoverable gas reserves on the North Slope are currently estimated at 35 Tcf. "Gas exploration is expected to begin in earnest when a gas pipeline is assured and will initially target the Central Arctic foothills area, south of the current oil producing area," the report said.

From 2015 to 2050, exploration success and development in all five sub-provinces, given the optimistic assumptions above, will yield about 28 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil and 125 Tcf of economically recoverable gas, according to the report.

"For the complete study interval from 2005 to 2050, the forecasts of economically recoverable oil and gas additions, including reserves growth in known fields, is 35 [billion] to 36 billion barrels of oil and 137 Tcf of gas. For this optimistic scenario, the productive life of the Alaska North Slope would be extended well beyond 2050 and could potentially result in the need to refurbish TAPS [Trans Alaska Pipeline System] and add capacity to the gas pipeline."

The report can be found in the fossil energy section of the DOE website at www.fossil.energy.gov.

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