PDF _ RL31022 - Arctic Petroleum Technology Developments
23-Jan-2006; Bernard A. Gelb, M. Lynne Corn and Terry R. Twyman; 31 p.

Update: May 24, 2006

Abstract: Congressional debate over opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) on a portion of the North Slope of Alaska to petroleum exploration and development is under way in the 109th Congress. Current law prohibits such development in ANWR.

The North Slope is home to the two largest oil fields in North America and to the largest U.S. oil field discovered in the last decade. The North Slope also is home to a diverse, unique, and fragile ecosystem – resulting in extensive federal, state, and local regulatory protection. Partly due to increased restrictions since the discovery of Prudhoe Bay, operators have developed less environmentally intrusive ways to recover arctic oil, primarily through innovations in several types of technology.

Seismic technology offers the exploration sector advanced analytical methods that generate high resolution images of geologic structures and that help identify oil and gas accumulations by looking for anomalies or hydrocarbon indicators in the seismic data. Ice-based technology has been improved so as to better serve remote areas during exploratory drilling and production. Computers now allow the manipulation and interpretation of vast amounts of data, offering more precise well locations, thereby reducing the number of wells needed to find hydrocarbon accumulations.

Recent advances in drilling can reduce the footprint of petroleum operations in arctic environments. New drilling bit designs, fluid formulas, and advanced forms of drilling, such as extended reach, horizontal, and designer wells, permit drilling to reach as far as five miles from a wellhead location and to drill around geological barriers to find and develop hydrocarbon accumulations. Advances in drilling allow less space for a drilling rig, and reduce volumes and weights of both equipment and drilling waste.

Production facilities are now more compact, with modules performing many functions. A project goal of operators on the North Slope is zero discharge of solid and fluid wastes. Production drilling techniques using slim hole technology, such as coiled tubing and multilateral drilling, can contribute to smaller footprints, less waste, and better recovery of hydrocarbons from each well.

Proponents of opening ANWR to energy development maintain that these technologies substantially mitigate the effects on the environment of oil and gas operations, and assert that the increase in domestically-produced energy would be worth any minimal environmental impacts. Opponents counter that a facility of any size would still be an industrial site and an intrusion on the ecosystem, and argue that the need for gravel and scarce water, the permanent roads, ports, and airstrips that would follow, and the unknown number of spills would destroy vegetation, contaminate water resources, and interfere with wildlife.

 [read report]

Topics: Energy, Science & Technology, Public Lands

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