Pioneer Natural Resources Co. is poised to become the third largest net land holder in Alaska following its announcement Thursday to expand its existing acreage on the North Slope. As part of a wide-sweeping plan, the Dallas-based producer is launching a joint exploration program in the first quarter with co-owners ConocoPhillips and Anadarko Petroleum Corp., with an eye on establishing a new core division in the state.

The Dallas-based producer signed an agreement with ConocoPhillips and Anadarko for an undisclosed amount to acquire a 20% interest in 452,000 additional acres and the rights to extensive seismic and geologic data in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) Northeast Planning Area. It also plans to spend more than $50 million this year on North Slope exploration.

“This new joint venture agreement positions us to participate in near-term, high-impact exploration opportunities on trend with existing discoveries,” said CEO Scott Sheffield. “The new acreage complements our existing NPR-A acreage as it is much closer to infrastructure and could provide a bridge to our large holdings in the northwest. When all of the related assignments have been approved, Pioneer will have amassed an Alaskan undeveloped acreage portfolio in excess of 1.6 million gross acres and will hold the third largest net position in the state.”

The latest agreement ties in with one Pioneer set up in early 2003 with the same companies, in which it acquired a 20% interest in 167,000 acres in the NPR and adjacent federal offshore waters. Pioneer also participated in a Northwest Planning Area lease sale and acquired working interests that range from 20-30% in 808,000 acres.

Since Pioneer entered Alaska with the successful drilling of three discovery wells within its Oooguruk Unit in 1Q2003, it has assembled an extensive portfolio of North Slope opportunities. Chris Cheatwood, Pioneer’s executive vice president of Worldwide Exploration, said the North Slope portfolio offered a “good balance between development and exploration and with opportunities that will spur drilling activity for the next five to 10 years.”

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