When the U.S. Congress passed a $1.1 trillion spending plan on Friday, Dec. 18, they also officially ended the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports. The deal marked a major victory for both Republicans and the U.S. oil and gas industry, which has suffered from a global oversupply of crude oil in recent years.
Now that the restrictions on crude oil exports have finally been lifted, one Texas oil company has set their sights on one of the U.S. petroleum industry’s other main hobby horses — drilling for oil in federal Arctic waters. To finally tap the oil beneath federal waters, Hillcorp Energy Company wants to build a massive artificial gravel island six miles from shore in the Beaufort Sea region of Alaska.
Earlier this year, Royal Dutch Shell drew out of Arctic waters. Hillcorp wants to place at least five extraction wells on the gravel island, and projects they could extract a minimum of 80 million barrels of oil over the next two decades.
If the Houston-based company succeeds, they would have finally established the first petroleum production well in Federal arctic waters. Currently, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is reviewing the environmental impact of the plan, which would create a 23-acre gravel island the size of more than 17 football fields.
Excepting Saudi Arabia and Russia, the U.S. is the world’s third largest producer of oil and contains some of the most oil-rich regions on the planet.
Environmentalists have rejected the plan — and all Arctic drilling — on principle. Alaska Governor Bill Walker supports the proposal, and several gravel islands are already operational, scattered around Alaska’s coastline.
Hillcorp bought access to the area from BP Exploration Alaska, which discovered up to 120 million barrels of oil in the region in 1997. It’s believed to be one of the largest oil fields in all of North America.
To produce the gravel island, Hillcorp would have to hire ice road truckers to carry 83,000 cubic yards of gravel over sea ice, where it would be dumped into a hole in the ice.
The proposed island would have a work surface of 9.3 acres, surrounded by a barrier wall to keep out ice, water, and marine wildlife (like polar bears). In addition, a 5.6-mile underwater pipeline would carry oil to the mainland.