Alaska's oil and gas industry primarily focuses on the North Slope and Cook Inlet, where significant discoveries have been transitioned into production for years. While some exploration has been done in Middle Earth (essentially the rest of Alaska), much of it was done twenty or even thirty years ago, and the amount of exploration compared to the size of the area means that knowledge of what's going on under the ground is in many ways lacking.
What is well known is that Alaska almost spills over with natural resource development opportunities for oil, gas, and mined commodities. Outside oil and gas companies economically must "follow the oil," but some of Alaska's Native Corporations are spearheading investment in-region, compiling valuable data and looking for development opportunities on their own lands.
Ahtna has been clear throughout the process of preparing and drilling a wildcat well in Tolsona that their purpose is to spur regional development as well as search for options to reduce the cost of local energy. In an interview conducted in mid-September 2016, before Tolsona No.l was spud, Ahtna President Michelle Anderson said exploration in the region "goes back to our mandate: using (natural) resources to benefit our shareholders. Whatever is there, we believe our elders selected our lands during our Settlement Act to take care of us. We feel we have an obligation to use those resources for the benefit of our people. If we are successful it's going to completely enhance and benefit the local economy."
Ahtna spud Tolsona No.l on September 28, 2016, intending to drill approximately 4,300 feet. Drilling concluded December 5, 2016, at a final vertical depth of about 5,500 feet, according to an Ahtna January press release. The release states, "Despite the challenges, the drilling phase was safely completed in seventy days with zero Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordable incidents."
Tansy says that Ahtna considers the project a success, in part because of a perfect safety record. "There were a lot of little pieces, and we wanted to do a project that was safe. That was one of our highest priorities."
Ahtna has not yet announced any further plans at the Tolsona site, and Tansy says, "We're still at the data gathering point," having achieved their second major goal of reaching their anticipated depth. "For us the Copper River Valley has had great interest in the last twelve to thirteen years from outside parties, and there have been a couple wells drilled out there, but we have not been able to evaluate a lot of what was really there." Tansy says there hasn't been a significant exploration effort in the Copper River Valley in many years.
"At this point we're putting together a Copper River Basin below-ground picture that gives us a better idea of how the geological features were formed out there, and they are interesting."
Interesting and challenging, according to Ahtna Oil and Gas Development Manager Dan Lee. "We knew the basin had challenges," in part through information...