Environmental Groups Seek Delay in Liberty Reservoir Drilling

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Several environmental groups are asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to delay BP’s plan to begin drilling to reach its Liberty reservoir off Alaska’s coast. The oil reserve is located in federal waters, but the company will access it from a man-made gravel drilling pad about a mile off Alaska’s coast.

BP is using a technology called ultra extended reach for the Liberty project. That involves drilling down two miles and then horizontally six to eight miles to tap into the oil. The technology is not new, but the project is likely to set a record for the longest extended reach well in the world. The environmental groups say the project is too risky, given the disaster that’s still unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.

After the Gulf spill, the Interior Department issued a moratorium on new offshore oil drilling in deep water until a presidential commission investigates the incident. That stopped Shell from drilling exploratory wells this summer in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea.

BP says the project doesn’t fall under the moratorium in part because it is drilling from a land based rig, sitting on a man-made island in less than ten feet of water. The project is also tapping into a proven reserve of oil. The company acknowledges there are technical challenges with ultra extended reach drilling. But BP spokesman Steve Rinehart says the complex project has been carefully developed over the last several years.

Rinehart says the company is continually evaluating the project to ensure the design, materials and systems meet the company’s high standards.

BP had hoped to begin drilling this fall. But Rinehart says given the increased federal attention to the project and the company’s own desire to make sure it moves ahead safely, drilling isn’t likely to begin until next year.  The Liberty reservoir is estimated to hold 100 million barrels of oil.

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