Alaska has many sedimentary basins that are known to include elements required for functioning petroleum systems. To have a functioning petroleum system, a basin must include a source rock, migration pathway, reservoir rock, seal rock, and an effective trap for gas. Detailed geologic information is lacking from all of these basins that would allow realistic evaluation of whether petroleum systems are present.
Exploring for natural gas in Alaska’s noncommercial basins will require modern, high-quality surface and subsurface data. The normal exploration progression includes conducting detailed surface bedrock geologic mapping, acquiring reflection seismic surveys, and finally, probing the most promising areas by drilling wells evaluated with modern wireline geophysical log suites. Each stage of this cycle is typically more expensive than the preceding step, with costs associated with a remote exploration program ranging from 40 to 100 million dollars. Currently, legacy datasets from previous exploration cycles are available only for limited portions of the Copper River, Middle Tanana, and Yukon Flats-Kandik basins. Developing a significant natural gas discovery in one of Alaska’s non-producing basins could be very expensive unless the accumulation was located at a shallow depth and close to both the point of use (a rural community or group of communities) and transportation infrastructure. Natural gas discoveries that do not meet the industry’s commercial economic metrics due to size, gas production rate, location, development costs, or other factors, would need to be evaluated for possible governmental subsidy, or remain undeveloped.
Natural Gas is a clean burning energy alternative that enjoys widespread use around the world. Natural gas is the primary energy source for many Alaska residents, but because of transportation difficulty and cost, its use is restricted to the areas that contain identified fields found during industrial scale exploration in the 1960s. The inherent economic risk and high cost of exploration has limited the amount of activity in many of the remote sedimentary basins in the state. Nevertheless, there are other areas that contain significant potential and the most economically feasible method of exploring for natural gas in those areas is to facilitate industrial scale exploration. The State of Alaska has a number of programs and incentives that encourage exploration in these areas, but the economies of scale has limited the amount of activity. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and the Alaska Energy Authority are committed to finding ways to facilitate that activity, and to provide as diverse a set of energy options for the citizens as possible.