Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, December 11, 2005

Energy giant plans to spend $800 million on Alaska projects

ANCHORAGE - The state's top oil and gas producer, said it plans to spend $800 million on construction, drilling and other capital projects in Alaska next year.

ConocoPhillips' capital budget is nearly 8 percent more than the $743 million the Houston-based company expects to tally by the end of the current year.

Most of next year's spending will focus on developing small oil pools in the vicinity of the North Slope's Alpine field and on expanding production from the Slope's vast but hard-to-pump heavy oil deposits.

Some money also will go toward squeezing more barrels out of Alaska's two aging flagships, the Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk fields.

ConocoPhillips spokesman Jack Griffin said Friday that the increased capital budget in part reflects the record-high oil prices of recent months.

"When prices are as high as they are, you look for opportunities," Griffin said.

The Alaska spending is part a companywide capital budget of about $10 billion.

The company's announcement did not specifically mention any spending toward the proposed Alaska natural gas pipeline. The project appears to be years away from construction.

The North Slope has billions of barrels of thick oil, known as heavy oil, and Conoco in recent years has moved to increase production from the giant West Sak deposit.

The company also is working to build two so-called satellite fields that will be joined by pipeline with Alpine, the Slope's westernmost oil field. The satellites are called Fiord and Nanuq. The company is seeking permits for a third satellite known as West Alpine, Griffin said.

Conoco typically is Alaska's most aggressive exploratory driller, sinking several wells per year.

President declares disaster for Bering Sea storm areas

JUNEAU - President Bush on Friday declared a disaster for parts of western Alaska struck by a powerful Bering Sea storm in September.

The declaration means federal aid will be available to repair damaged public infrastructure, such as water and sewer systems, power grids and roads.

Cities and villages from the Northwest Arctic Borough to the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta were flooded when the storm hit Sept. 22. Preliminary estimates by the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management put the damages at about $1.8 million.

Gov. Frank Murkowski declared a disaster in the region in November, but state officials had been waiting for a federal declaration before starting any recovery programs.

The three-and-a-half-month wait in getting state and federal aid to the area has not created a hardship, said state Division of Homeland Security spokesman Jamie Littrell.

The federal government will pay for 75 percent of repairs to public infrastructure to the state's 25 percent match. The state also will start a program to pay for up to $5,000 in private property repairs.

Roadways and utility systems were damaged in the storm, but all are functioning, Littrell said. No families have been displaced by the storm, although five or fewer families had to be evacuated when it struck, he said.

All the families evacuated have since been able to return to their homes, he said.

Road damage from the storm was recorded in the Nome and Norton Sound areas, Littrell said.

Alaska hostage's former co-workers say he is adventurous

WAHPETON, N.D. - Ronald Schulz' former co-workers here know him as a hardworking, easygoing man who liked adventure, whether it was climbing on grain elevators or doing electrical work in another country.

There was no new word Saturday on Schulz' fate in Iraq, where he was shown last week as a hostage. An Internet statement in the name of the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed his abductors had killed him. U.S. officials could not confirm that, and family members have said they believe Schulz, 40, a Jamestown native who has a home in Eagle River, Alaska, is still alive.

Lisa Lehmann worked with Schulz at R&R Electric company of Breckenridge, Minn. She and Bob Randall, co-owner of that company, say Schulz is intelligent, athletic and fearless.

"When we were working on grain elevators, he would climb up the outside of them," Lehmann recalled.

Randall said Schulz was "a very hard worker, very smart (and) dependable ... he was a superintendent for us and he did a good job, a very good job."

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