BP began working in Alaska in 1959; the company’s exploration manager at the time had flown over the northern reaches of the state that year and recognized large surface formations, similar to those of Iran’s Zagros Mountains.
On his recommendation, BP sent geologists to explore the remote region and opened its first office in downtown Anchorage to support the effort in 1959.
Through early seismic surveys, BP gained sufficient confidence to bid in three state lease sales in the 1960s – and gained a strong acreage position in the area now known as Prudhoe Bay.
BP teams drilled the confirmation well for the Prudhoe Bay oilfield in 1968 and in the mid-1970s helped build the 800-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline, as part of a consortium of oil industry majors.
The three-year construction of the pipeline, from Prudhoe to Valdez on Alaska’s southern coast, required around 30,000 workers to complete the feat of engineering crossing three mountain ranges and the Denali fault – an area known to be seismically active.
Meanwhile, development of Prudhoe Bay oil field facilities and infrastructure, such as the power station, gathering centres and flow stations as well as drilling hundreds of oil wells, was a significant undertaking. It required an investment of more than $30 billion by BP and its partners.
All of the Prudhoe Bay facilities supporting oil production are located in a 312 square-mile (or 800+ square-kilometre) footprint on the North Slope, a flat land that extends 88,000 square miles (227, 919 square kilometres) from the foothills of the Brook Mountain Range to the Arctic Ocean. The tundra thaws each year but the subsurface remains frozen year-round.
When oil started pumping from Prudhoe Bay in June 1977, estimates pointed to a 30-year production life span – with potential for 9.6 billion barrels.
Through the advancement of drilling technology, enhanced recovery techniques and improved reservoir management, Prudhoe Bay has yielded many more barrels than expected.
In fact, it has proved to be the most productive oil field in US history, generating more than 13 billion barrels of oil. It is estimated to have the potential to produce more than 2 billion further barrels.
Reflecting on BP’s 60 year-presence in Alaska, group chief executive Bob Dudley says: “Alaska has been instrumental in BP’s growth and success for well over half a century and our work there has helped shape the careers of many throughout the company.
“We are extraordinarily proud of the world-class business we have built, working alongside our partners and the State of Alaska, and the significant contributions it has made to Alaska’s economy and America’s energy security.
“However, we are steadily reshaping BP and today we have other opportunities, both in the US and around the world, that are more closely aligned with our long-term strategy and more competitive for our investment.”
According to BP Alaska regional president Janet Weiss, the deal with Hilcorp marks an “exciting new chapter for Prudhoe Bay”.
She adds: “Alaska has been a core part of BP for 60 years and saying goodbye will not be easy. Our people have achieved incredible success over the decades developing and maintaining these hugely important assets, but we are confident this sale is in BP’s and the state’s best interests and the business will be best positioned for the future with Hilcorp.”