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ANCHORAGE - With Alaska's oil output on the wane and global prices rising, energy giant BP has started drilling the world's longest wells to a hard-to-reach offshore reservoir in the Beaufort Sea, the company said Monday.
Buried beneath thousands of feet of rock on the outer continental shelf, the Liberty project has required major refinements in drilling technology, including well bores that pierce up to eight miles of shales and siltstone, according to BP officials.
Liberty may portend a future of tougher oil extraction in Alaska, where production from Prudhoe Bay, America's largest oil field, and its satellite reservoirs has been falling for two decades.
"All the easy development is done," said BP Alaska president Doug Suttles. "Cutting-edge technology is going to define the future of the industry in Arctic oilfield engineering and development."
The reservoir, six miles off Alaska's northern coast, is expected to yield about 100 million barrels of oil starting in 2011, according to BP officials. Work will start this summer with a seismic survey of the seabed.
The $1.5 billion in development costs will include a specialized Arctic drilling rig and several spider-like well bores centered on a manmade concrete island.
Despite the opening of many small fields, like Liberty, the amount of oil flowing through the trans-Alaska pipeline has fallen from a high of more than 2 million barrels a day in 1988 to 740,000 barrels a day in 2007, according to the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.
BP operates several other offshore oil fields in the region, including Northstar and Endicott. Liberty will be the first oil field off Alaska that lies exclusively in federal waters.