* Exploratory drilling delayed to at least 2015
* Previous 2014 target now considered unrealistic
By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Sept 7 Norwegian oil giant
Statoil will wait until at least 2015 to start drilling
exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea, a remote but potentially
oil-rich frontier off northwestern Alaska, a company spokesman
Company officials had previously said they hoped to begin
drilling as early as 2014, but that date is now considered
unrealistic, said Ola Morten Aanestad, Statoil's Houston-based
vice president for communications in North America.
"We will not be drilling in 2014, and we have not made a
decision to drill," Aanestad said in a telephone interview,
without specifying the reason for the delays.
Statoil has significant lease holdings in the region. The
company bought exploration rights to 16 tracts in a lease sale
held in 2008 by the Minerals Management Service, and it
subsequently acquired minority shares in 50 Chukchi tracts held
But Royal Dutch Shell, the dominant leaseholder in the
Chukchi, is the industry leader in exploration there. Shell last
week won federal permission to start drilling work.
Shell says it has spent $4.5 billion so far on its offshore
Alaska exploration program, including $2.1 billion to acquire
federal leases in the Chukchi and about $84 million to acquire
federal leases in the Beaufort Sea off northern Alaska.
Aanestad said his company and others with ambitions to
explore the Chukchi are waiting to see how much progress Shell
"We are obviously watching the process that Shell's going
through," he said.
Statoil officials have said previously that the company
hoped to do its first Chukchi drilling at a prospect called
Amundsen, about 100 miles offshore.
The company has already done substantial pre-drilling work
to evaluate the area, Aanestad said.
Statoil completed a seismic survey in 2010 and a
shallow-hazards survey in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of
Ocean Energy Management, a successor agency to the MMS. Statoil
has also cooperated with Shell, ConocoPhillips and others on
collecting baseline environmental information, according to the
Aanestad said Statoil has no plans for additional seismic
surveys. "I think we are where we need to be in that regard," he
ConocoPhillips, meanwhile, has submitted an exploration
plan that calls for drilling to start in 2014 at a prospect
called Devil's Paw. The BOEM is evaluating that plan, which was
submitted on March 1.
The Chukchi is believed to hold about 15 billion barrels of
recoverable oil and about 76 trillion cubic feet of recoverable
natural gas, according to Department of Interior estimates.
The area is very remote and subject to harsh weather
conditions. Up to now, only five exploration wells have ever
been drilled in the Chukchi, four of them by Shell. Those wells
were drilled two decades ago, and all were capped and abandoned.