WASHINGTON - The Yukon Flats could hold almost as much natural gas as Cook Inlet, a government study has concluded.
The U.S. Geological Survey's report offers a mean estimate of 5.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas recoverable with today's technology.
In the study, the agency's mean estimate of crude oil in the flats is 173 million barrels, a less impressive figure that, if correct, would make oil development unlikely, according to the area's major private land holder.
The flats lie entirely within the 11 million-acre Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Doyon Ltd., the regional Native corporation for Interior Alaska, owns 1.25 million acres within the refuge and hopes to consolidate some of that land in a swap with the Fish and Wildlife Service so it can improve the economics of drilling for oil and gas.
"This is a gassy province," said Rick Stanley, a USGS geologist in Menlo Park, Calif., who worked on the study. "This is potentially, but not assuredly, another Cook Inlet for oil and gas resources."
Cook Inlet has produced 6.4 trillion cubic feet of gas, out of a known total of 8.5 trillion, according to a paper prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy in June. Potential exists for another 13 trillion to 17 trillion cubic feet, the paper stated.
Those numbers are comparable to the Yukon Flats, Stanley said. The USGS study, released last week, stated there is a 5 percent chance that the flats have 14.6 trillion cubic feet or more. On the opposite end of the probability curve, there could be zero, it said.
The highest petroleum potential lies under land that is owned by or could soon be owned by Doyon near where Beaver Creek flows north out of the White Mountains.
The entire flats show favorable signs of oil and gas but "the area of the land swap may be particularly favorable," Stanley said. Sedimentary rocks associated with oil and gas are thicker in that area.
Jim Mery, vice president of lands with Doyon, said the USGS estimate of the oil potential seems "quite conservative."
"They did a fine job. I'm not trying to be critical, but assessments like this are very subjective," he said.
The corporation's information indicates that the area could hold a "much larger accumulation of oil," he said.
The USGS's upper estimate of the oil potential is 592 million barrels.