Brennan: KIC-1 was a strat test

By Tom Brennan |

The New York Times reporters writing the story of the KIC-1 well drilled in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1986 thought it was an excess of caution for the drillers to haul everything away, “even the rock cuttings.”

Actually, the well drilled by several major oil companies that year was a stratigraphic test and not an exploratory oil well. It was drilled to obtain information, not oil, and the information hidden in those cuttings could have been the kind that the companies paid millions of dollars to get. Leaving them behind could risk losing very valuable information, and perhaps your job.

The Times’ story was based on attempts by the Trump administration to open a portion of ANWR to drilling. The environmental community and its friends in the left-leaning news media are trying to block such drilling even though it could contain some of the largest untapped pools of oil in the nation.

The New York Times couldn’t resist the urge to suggest that there isn’t any oil in ANWR. The Times story did quote several knowledgeable people as saying the information derived from the well was actually discouraging, which is possible. But I’ll believe that when I see it.

One indicator that the well yielded encouraging information on the area’s potential is that my old friend Roger Herrera was for years a leading champion for opening ANWR to drilling. Roger was the BP executive in charge of the KIC-1 well and if anybody would know whether the well results were encouraging that would have been Roger.

He retired a few years after the well was drilled and became a leader of and lobbyist for Arctic Power, the grassroots group that led the charge to open ANWR for many years.

A stratigraphic test like KIC-1 is drilled to bring up cuttings and cores from rock formations underlying areas of interest flagged by geologists looking for signs of oil.

In order for oil to be found beneath any given area, the subsurface geology must contain things like a source rock (ancient layers where dead creatures once collected and turned to oil and gas), a porous layer where oil and gas could accumulate over the centuries and a cap rock layer that would keep the oil and gas from floating to the earth’s surface and dissipating.

That’s complicated enough for this English major and his friends, but it is roughly the kind of information the drillers are looking for when they drill a stratigraphic test well.

Once the rock layers are tapped and brought to the surface, the industry’s experts can then take their samples to laboratories and conference rooms to project whether their companies are likely to find oil anywhere in the area, perhaps dozens of miles away (if not more) from the well.

Subsurface rock layers conducive to oil formation and accumulation can be mapped using seismic testing, surface rock collection and more.

Industry experts can take the information they have collected by various means and extrapolate it to give them a pretty good idea of whether it’s worth drilling an exploratory well anywhere in the basin being explored.

This whole process can take years but the oil and gas pools the experts are targeting have already been in place for millions of years. One group of experts is always trying to reach its conclusions and its drilling decisions before their competitors do.

A year here, a year there, and it may not make a difference unless your competitors get there first.

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