Alaska State Oil & Gas Sale Goes to Independents

The Alaska State Oil & Gas Lease Sale held on Wednesday saw several independents win exploration rights.

Pioneer Natural Resources was the most active bidder in a pair of lease sales held by the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas for uncommitted uplands and offshore acreage. The company, which had previously acquired exploration acreage near the Kuparuk oil field, picked up 10 offshore tracts in the Beaufort Sea and 41 onshore tracts across the state-owned areas of the North Slope, according to preliminary sale results.

Other independents submitting successful bids were Anadarko Petroleum, which is already actively producing and exploring on the North Slope; Alaska Venture Capital Group LLC; Armstrong Oil & Gas Inc.; and UltraStar Exploration LLC, a company founded by a former Arco Alaska Inc. vice president.

ConocoPhillips was the only major oil company to submit successful bids in either lease sale. The company also won rights to explore some tracts east of its Alpine oil field on the western North Slope. An individual investor also won exploration rights to four tracts.

More than $3.8 million in high bids was offered for onshore tracts, many of them areas that BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. had previously held but relinquished to the state after abandoning exploration opportunities there, according to the Division of Oil and Gas. For the Beaufort Sea tracts, more than $1.97 million was offered in high bids.

Jim Hansen, the division's leasing manager, called the sale results encouraging. "It's better than the last couple of sales we've had," he said. The North Slope still appears to be attractive, he added. "The North Slope still holds some surprises, we hope."

The state appears to have had success in its efforts to entice independent energy companies to what is now a maturing oil province, Hansen said. "We've been working hard to get independents up here," he said. "Independents are finding their way in. They started out by partnering with major companies, and now they're doing it on their own."