New oil development technology, developed over 30 years on Alaska's North Slope, will allow companies to tap underground producing reservoirs with a much smaller "footprint" on the surface.
When Prudhoe Bay was developed in the 1970s, about 2% of the surface area over the field, or 5,000 acres, was covered by gravel for roads and drilling and production facility sites. If Prudhoe Bay were developed today, using lessons learned since the 1960s, gravel would cover fewer than 2,000 acres, a 60% reduction.
Advances in directional, or extended-reach, drilling now allow producing companies to reach a reservoir 3 miles from the surface location. Soon "extended reach" wells out to four miles will be possible on the North Slope. When Prudhoe Bay was first developed, wells could reach out only 1.5 miles.
In the 1970s, production wells on drill pads in Prudhoe Bay were spaced 100 feet or more apart. New directional drilling techniques and drill equipment allow wells to be spaced 25 to 15 feet apart, and in some cases 10 feet apart. A drill pad that would have been 65 acres in 1977 can be less than nine acres today (an -87% reduction, see chart above). The same number of wells that required a 65-acre pad in the 1970s can be drilled on less than a nine-acre pad today.
MP: To put the advances in computer and oil drilling technology since the 1970s in perspective, keep in mind that the slide rule (pictured below, click to enlarge) was "state-of -the art" technology for performing engineering calculations at about the same time that oil development was designed for Pruhoe Bay in Alaska. Because of the advances in oil drilling technology, the "footprint" of the drilling operation in ANWR today would be one sixth the size of Washington's Dulles airport, in an area (ANWR) the size of the entire United Kingdom.