The Denver Post

Company seeks to build island off Alaska for Arctic drilling

- By Dan Joling Courtesy Hilcorp

The Associated Press America within a few years could be extracting oil from federal waters in the Arctic Ocean, but it won’t be from a remote drilling platform.

Federal regulators are taking comments on a draft environmen­tal statement for the Liberty Project, a proposal by a subsidiary of Houston-based Hilcorp to create an artificial gravel island that would hold production wells, a processing facility and the start of an undersea pipeline carrying oil to shore and connection­s to the trans-Alaska pipeline.

The drilling would be the first in federal Arctic waters since Royal Dutch Shell, amid protest both in the United States and abroad, in 2015 sent down an explorator­y well in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast.

Supporters like its chances. A final decision is in the hands of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Last December, President Barack Obama signed an executive order designatin­g the bulk of U.S. Arctic Ocean waters indefinite­ly off-limits to future oil and gas leasing. But in April, President Donald Trump signed another order aimed at reversing the policy.

Opponents say Arctic offshore oil should stay in the ground, where it won’t add greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and the melting of sea ice. They say spills are inevitable and cannot be cleaned up in icy Arctic water.

Opponents also question Hilcorp’s safety record. State authoritie­s this year fined the company $200,000 for violations at another production site.

The latest project is on federal leases sold in the 1990s. Hilcorp proposes to create the island about 15 miles east of Prudhoe Bay, North America’s largest oil field. BP Exploratio­n Alaska drilled at the site in 1997 and sold 50 percent of the assets to Hilcorp in 2014.

The island’s base on the ocean floor would be 24 acres, about the size of 18 football fields, with sloped sides leading to a work surface of 9 acres, the size of nearly seven football fields.

Trucks would travel by ice road to a hole cut in sea ice and deposit 83,000 cubic yards of gravel into 19 feet of water to create the island. A wall would fend off ice, waves and wildlife.

The island would be 5.6 miles off shore. The surface would have room for 16 wells, including five to eight convention­al production wells. At peak production, Hilcorp anticipate­s extracting 60,000 to 70,000 barrels per day for a total recovery of 80 million to 150 million barrels over 15 to 20 years.

Oil would reach shore by a pipe encased by a second pipe and equipped with leak-detection systems. It would be buried to prevent gouging by moving ice.

At the end of production, the company would remove equipment and the wall and let waves and ice dismantle the island.

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