Alaska’s New Exploration Incentives Cause North Slope Land Rush

World Energy Reports: Alaska’s New Exploration Incentives Cause North Slope Land Rush: The Dec. 7th Oil & Gas Lease Sales a Big Success, Large Bidders Include Repsol, Shell, Conoco and…Dan Donkel?

HOUSTON — The North Slope has long been the playground for the major oil companies like Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, Conoco and others. The region has produced over 16 billion barrels of oil over the last 35 years making it by far the most prolific oil producing region in the United States. However, the oil production has been declining since 1988 due to a lack of investment from the industry, despite a recent US-DOE study that calculated that the North Slope had 36 billion barrels of undiscovered reserves. This week’s oil and gas lease sale results for the North Slope, Beaufort Sea, and NPRA signal a reversal of that trend and a boom is now developing in Alaska.

“The success of these sales is another positive sign that Alaska’s doing a lot right when it comes to developing our tremendous oil and gas resources”

Immediately after the lease sales, Alaskan Governor Sean Parnell issued a press release stating that the “State of Alaska received more than 300 bids from more than 15 bidders for oil and gas lease tracts on the North Slope and the Beaufort Sea, totaling more than $21 million, signifying one of the most successful sales in recent Alaska history.” It is has been reported that this increase in participation is due to industry’s expectation of legislation that will both reduce production taxes and provide for additional exploration incentives. Looking at the oil companies that entered the lease sales, it is surprising to find that among the most successful bidders were longtime oil and gas investors Dan Donkel and Sam Cade, whose partnership captured more acreage than any other.

Daniel K. Donkel and Samuel H. Cade were the apparent high bidders on 40 tracts covering over 100,000 prime acres in the State of Alaska’s Beaufort Sea and North Slope Area wide 2011 W lease sales. The partnership’s main focus was in the Beaufort Sea sale where their bonus bid total of $1.52 million captured 35 tracts encompassing 93,000 acres, the largest number of high bids in the sale. Shell’s bids of $2.6 million purchased 80,000 acres.

In the North Slope sale, Donkel and Cade won three tracts that lay adjacent to their existing lease position. Prior to Wednesday’s sale results, the partnership already held nearly 200,000 acres of state leases in the North Slope and Beaufort Sea areas making them one of the largest leaseholders before the sale.

Daniel Donkel was pleased with the sale results stating “Last year’s sale had little activity aside from us and Great Bear. This year we expected that we would see more competition so we were not at all surprised to see the increased level of bidding. This makes two years in a row where we picked up about 100,000 acres and I think that we were fortunate to get some great lease positions early, before this North Slope boom really takes off.”

Governor Parnell and state legislators have been very vocal in trying to bring renewed interest to the North Slope and have been pushing the federal government and the industry to work together to increase production and refill the pipeline. Perhaps his message that Alaska is open for business is beginning to resonate; it is safe to say that the partnership of Donkel – Cade certainly believe the message.

“The success of these sales is another positive sign that Alaska’s doing a lot right when it comes to developing our tremendous oil and gas resources,” said House Minority Whip Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage).

Mr. Donkel went on to say that the acreage acquired in the sales would expand holdings in existing prospect areas, as well as position them well in new areas contiguous to Prudhoe Bay, Northstar, Beechy Point, and Milne Point Units.

The partnership has been accumulating a position on the North Slope for several years but has focused on increasing its strategic holdings over the last two years after a successful sale of all of its leases in the Cook Inlet to Apache Oil and Gas in 2010.

The specifics of the sale are interesting in that the partnership re-acquired three leases that had been allowed to expire at their Stinson prospect, bringing the total to five, including the lease that contains the ARCO Stinson #1 discovery well. This well flowed 430 barrels of oil per day from an impaired open-hole test but was never put on production and the project has laid dormant waiting for a time when the economics and infrastructure in the area would justify development. A recent geological report, by former DNR and ex-Arco geologist Don Brizzolara, has indicated potential reserves of 80 million to 420 million barrels of oil. Perhaps that time has come and Dan will finally put this oil discovery into the Trans-Alaska pipeline.

Donkel – Cade expanded their Stinson oil-play concept to the west by adding thirteen more tracts along the north side of the very large Thomson oil and gas discovery, thus linking the Stinson area acreage with their holdings north of the Badami Unit and east of the Liberty Unit.

In the North Slope sale, the Donkel – Cade partnership added a key tract to their lease position along the southwest side of the Badami Unit. This tract lies immediately west of the Arco West Mikkelsen #1 well that flowed 302 barrels of oil per day from the Tertiary Canning Formation in 1978. Further west, just south of the Prudhoe Bay Unit, the partnership captured two tracts that adjoin their 35,000 acres at Hemi Springs. The western tract lies adjacent to the ARCO Hemi Springs #1 well that flowed between 503 and 672 barrels of oil per day from the Lower Cretaceous Kuparuk C Sands in 1984.

In the past, the partnership of Donkel – Cade has been instrumental in bringing petroleum development to the state of Alaska. By amassing and then selling large acreage positions, they provide a beach-head for independents to join the major oil companies that have historically controlled most of the activity in Alaska.

Will the North Slope follow the Cook Inlet and see a resurgence of petroleum exploration, largely driven by the presence of these new independent players? For the sake of the State of Alaska and the Energy Security of the United States, we can only hope that the time has come. Innovation in technology, political unrest globally, the need for domestic supplies of oil, the Governors incentive plans all seem to be indicating that the time is now.