Federal permits signal progress for oil and gas work

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took positive action for two companies involved in oil and gas exploration and development in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. While the federal government owns the surface land in the refuge, CIRI owns the subsurface oil, gas and coal estate. NordAq Energy Inc. and Apache Alaska Corporation have lease and exploration agreements, respectively, with CIRI to look for and develop oil and natural gas resources from CIRI’s subsurface estate.
NordAq Energy 
In June, following a lengthy environmental impact statement process, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed a “record of decision” that gives NordAq the access corridor it wanted to the proposed Shadura development. The site is northeast of Nikiski in the wildlife refuge.
The agency considered a number of alternatives for road and pipeline access to the site, including a road coming from the Swanson River oil field to the east. NordAq stated that a road from the east would make the project too costly. In the end, the agency granted NordAq’s favored alternative of a 4.3-mile access road coming from the northwest off of the Kenai Spur Highway at Captain Cook State Recreation Area.
In early 2011, NordAq successfully drilled a wildcat exploratory well at the site. While the company has not made clear the size of its apparent discovery, a report in Petroleum News said, “The tentative development plans suggest a find worthy of some excitement.” According to the agency’s Record of Decision, the anticipated construction would take approximately 16 months and the project would potentially operate for 30 years. NordAq is still working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to obtain a Clean Water Act 404 permit, which is necessary before construction can begin on wetlands.
Apache Corporation 
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also issued a special use permit to Apache Alaska Corporation to conduct a 3-D seismic survey on land in the northwestern part of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The seismic program involves subsurface land that Apache has access via an exploration agreement it entered into with CIRI. Apache Corporation officials told Petroleum News they are excited about the opportunities, but are still working to determine when the survey will begin.
The survey will cover an area of more than 142,000 acres. It will be conducted during the winter and it is expected to take several winters to complete. Apache uses wireless nodal technology that takes advantage of satellite-based positioning so receivers can be placed independently without the need to cut seismic trails onland.
The surveyors will avoid areas where the seismic activities will disturb wildlife resources such as salmon streams or sensitive nesting areas. Equipment for the survey will be brought in by helicopter slings and snow machines will be the primary form of ground transportation. In the special use permit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found no significant environmental impact from the planned survey.