Alaska pursuing unconventional shale oil development to fill its pipeline

Canada may have its Albertan oil sands, and North Dakota has its Bakken oil formation. But don’t count Alaska out when it comes to producing unconventional oil.

The Washington Post by Juliet Eilperin

Alaska, which has fallen behind North Dakota in oil output and whose Prudhoe Bay oil fields are waning, is exploring the possibility of extracting oil from the source rock on the state’s North Slope. The state has leased more than half a million acres of its land to exploration companies, and even some environmentalists believe that the shale oil development could be the best way to increase output with relatively modest damage to the environment.

As in shale developments in Texas, North Dakota and elsewhere in the lower 48 states, the key to unlocking Alaska’s shale oil is a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, a method of injecting a mix of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to free up captured oil and gas.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System has a maximum daily capacity of 2.1 million barrels, but is now shipping on average 560,320 barrels per day. Sullivan likes to talk about how the state has “a great pipeline that has a lot of spare capacity” that can ship shale oil, and Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society, largely agrees with that sentiment.

“It could be, if it’s done right, a great thing for Alaska,” said Epstein, an engineer by training. “Shale oil offers opportunities for Alaska to continue the flow through the pipeline without going into areas which are more sensitive, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”