Alaska official skeptical of Escopeta Oil's gas discovery at Cook Inlet

The Anchorage Daily NewsNovember 8, 2011 

Two state officials said Monday they are skeptical of Escopeta Oil's claim last week that it made a giant gas discovery in Cook Inlet, saying the company lacks the data to back its assertion.

"It's possible their numbers are good. It's possible their numbers are bad," said Cathy Foerster, one of three members of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. "In fact, we think making an announcement of this kind, with so little firm data, is irresponsible."

Bill Barron, director of the state's Division of Oil and Gas and Escopeta's landlord for its Cook Inlet leases, said the state was being "cautious."

"They have made a bold claim and right now the division can't substantiate either way, positive or negative," Barron said. "It definitely is an encouraging sign but they're going to need several more wells to prove up what the true potential is."

On Friday, after government offices closed for the day, Escopeta announced it had made a stunning find while drilling the first well in the Kitchen Lights Unit of Cook Inlet, about 10 miles north of Nikiski: an estimated 3.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in two geologic formations. Escopeta said it was suspending drilling for the winter with the well half finished. It hopes to resume next year, when it would encounter three or four additional potential oil and gas formations, which could add to their reserves.

The North Slope, with its vast reserves, is thought to have 35 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, though experts say a lot more will be discovered if a gas pipeline is built and gas production becomes commercially viable.

Houston-based Escopeta is an independent petroleum company, the kind of producer that state officials have been trying to woo to replace the waning interest of the major companies in Alaska's aging oil fields.

Bruce Webb, the Escopeta vice president who issued the announcement last week, said Monday that the company isn't claiming it can recover all the gas it found. But he insisted it had confirmation from an independent company that studied its well logs.

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