Oil & Natural Gas Projects
Exploration and Production Technologies
Tundra Travel Model for the North Slope of Alaska
The project was selected under a non-competitive cooperative agreement with
the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF) to conduct arctic energy research in
two broad categories: fossil energy and remote electrical power generation.
The DOE Arctic Energy Office and UAF are collaborating with the energy industry
and state agencies to better identify Alaska's unique research needs.
The project investigates the potential for a new standard for tundra travel
that will allow exploration activity, including seismic surveys and exploratory
drilling, to be permitted for an increased period of time. The objective is
to increase exploration and development activity concurrently with enhanced
Alaska Department of Natural Resources
North Slope Borough
New standards for measuring ice and snow depth and ice road development allow
for extension of the exploration and development season on the North Slope by
over 30%. Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced the opening
of the Eastern Coastal area of the North Slope to oil and gas exploration on
December 10, 2004, and the Western Coastal area on Dec. 16. The openings are
the earliest since 1995 and 2-3 weeks earlier than last year. It is expected
that the closing of the winter season also will be extended giving an overall
season extension of 3-4 weeks.
Lengthening a three-month exploration season by a month is a significant accomplishment.
This increase in the exploration season, combined with the improvements in constructing
ice roads, may allow companies to complete exploration wells within one season
rather than two, with significant cost savings.
Winter exploration seasons have become progressively shorter because of warming
weather and changes in measuring techniques. As a result, the winter exploration
season has been effectively cut in half since the early 1970s.
Exploration and development on the North Slope is dependent on transporting
equipment across the tundra only when it is snowy and solid. Standards for depth
of snow and ice were arbitrarily set in the 1970s, based on a minimum of six
inches of snow and 1 foot of frozen ground. This originally established a 200-day
winter season. However, over the past three decades, rising temperatures have
cut the season in half to 100 days. Because of the North Slope's vast reserves
and hydrocarbon potential, the length of the operations season is critical for
industry, state and federal needs. DOE's goal is to assist the Alaska DNR by
providing sound, unbiased scientific analysis. DNR officials want to revise
the standards for tundra travel based on this scientific research. Funding by
DOE, and cooperation between the State of Alaska and the petroleum industry,
have allowed testing to determine the tundra's ability to withstand the impact
of transport over a wider window of operating conditions.
The DOE-UAF project goals called for it to develop an ecological model that
- Assess interactive effects on tundra travel.
- Predict tundra resistance to oil field disturbance.
- Set new standards for tundra travel.
- Allow exploration activities, including seismic surveys.
- Increase the period of time for these activities.
- Provide a better understanding of the tundra.
- Assess tundra resistance with regard to:
- Soil type.
- Vegetative cover.
- Snow depth and density.
- Depth of frozen ground.
The project researchers also developed a new tool to measure snow and permafrost
The project developed an ecological model accounting for the interactive effects
of snow conditions, soils, and vegetation to predict tundra resistance to oilfield
disturbance in an effort to replace the current tundra travel standards. New
standards for tundra travel will allow exploration activity, including seismic
and exploration drilling, for an increased period of time.
The model will provide a better understanding of the tundra. Development of
the ecological model entailed assessing tundra resistance to soil compaction
and deformation including: soil type, vegetative cover, snow depth and density,
and depth of frozen ground. The goal is to increase exploration and development
activity concurrently with enhanced environmental protection.
The oil industry requires a minimum of 120 days of operation for effective exploration
and development drilling. Decreased season length results in projects extending
to up to eight years, creating delays, higher costs, and ultimately more damage
to the tundra. Planned oil development on 8.8 million acres of Federal lands
on the North Slope requires oil drilling equipment to cross state lands where
access is dependent on the tundra travel standards.
The scientific evidence provided by this project should satisfy both industry
and environmental groups that optimal protection of the tundra can be accomplished
while providing a longer operational season on the North Slope.
Current Status (August 2005)
Based on the recommendations from the project's research, the North Slope winter
exploration and drilling season opened earlier in 2004 and is expected to extend
longer in 2005. Additional monitoring of the effect of the expanded season will
Project Start: May 15, 2003
Project End: December 15, 2005
DOE Contribution: $270,000
Performer Contribution: $100,000 (27%)
Other Government Organizations Involved: Alaska Department of Natural
NETL - James Hemsath (firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-452-2559)
John Ford (email@example.com or 918-699-2061)
AK Dept. of Natural Resources - Harry Bader, Northern Regions Land Mgr. (firstname.lastname@example.org
Rolligons, all-terrain vehicles that move on large, low-pressure adjustable
tires, are typical of the vehicles used for transport on the North Slope, AK.
A polar bear roams the slow-growing vegetation on the tundra.
Winder exploration and development window on North Slope Alaska has been decreasing.
New analysis of tundra impacts may extend working windows.