There are a lot of good reasons for believing the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge contains a lot of oil.
One of the best is that the man in charge of the only exploratory well drilled there led the fight to open ANWR for many years. Roger Herrera was a senior executive in exploration at BP when the company drilled KIC-1, a stratigraphic test drilled not to find oil but to get information on rock structures, in 1986.
BP and its partners never disclosed their findings from the well, but Roger’s enthusiasm for opening the ANWR coastal plain to oil exploration convinced me and others that the prospects for finding something big are excellent. Roger retired shortly after KIC-1 was drilled and became a leader of Arctic Power, the civic group that campaigned to open ANWR for several decades.
I’m not a big fan of everything President Donald Trump does — or maybe my concerns are more about what he says — but his administration is moving forward on an ANWR lease sale, expected later this year. And of that I do approve.
The ANWR lease sale is long overdue and could change the economic outlook for this state, especially if industry drillers find large amounts of oil and gas. And judging by Roger Herrera’s enthusiasm, I think the prospects are pretty good that the rigs will make some very encouraging finds.
There are never any guarantees in that business, but the ANWR coastal plain is one of the most promising exploration areas left in the entire United States. We could use some good news like a big discovery right now, especially since our economy is ailing and BP is selling off its major interests in Alaska.
BP’s properties here are very promising and could draw some enthusiastic bidders. The company has been a foundation for our economy for more than 50 years and its looming departure is a sad occasion, but all such companies must always weigh their existing commitments against the other options open to them. BP is a major player in the petroleum industry and always has big choices to make. Alaska needs to remember, as the saying goes, you win a few, you lose a few.
My wife and I arrived here in 1967 when Richfield was drilling what became its North Slope discovery well. That December there was a little item in The Anchorage Times saying that bush pilots were reporting that Richfield was flaring gas at its wildcat well at the mouth of the Sagavanirktok River. That was what became known as the Prudhoe Bay discovery, the foundation of Alaska’s economy for the last half-century. A year or so after that BP announced its Prudhoe Bay discovery, though what it discovered was that its leases lay over part of the big field that ARCO had tapped.
You can never count on these things, but drilling ANWR is certainly one of the most exciting prospects in many a year. There are still plenty of opponents to the lease sale, including the environmentalists and some Alaska Native groups, but the greens aren’t in power right now and the Alaska Natives who live closest to the proposed drilling area, including the folks in Kaktovik, stand to win revenues and jobs and they support drilling.
One of the concerns voiced by some critics is that the area contains an important caribou herd. But those complaints don’t stand up against the fact that the large herd of caribou in the Prudhoe Bay area thrived after oil was discovered there and major development took place over many years.
Angus Gavin, the naturalist and former head of Ducks Unlimited of Canada, once told me that the caribou thrived because they weren’t afraid of the drillers and their support staff but the wolves and bears stayed away. And the wolves and bears had previously been a major threat to the caribou, especially during calving season.
One reason people oppose drilling is that The New York Times and other national media keep illustrating their articles about ANWR with photos of mountainous terrain that is many miles away from the flat plain to be explored. The Times did it again this week with a beautiful shot of a huge mountain pass that’s nowhere near the oil prospect. That’s like illustrating a story about Dover, Delaware with a photo of Times Square.
Keep your fingers crossed, folks. Big things could be happening in Alaska once again.