COMPANIES WANT SECRECY FOR ALASKA TEST RESULTS

COMPANIES WANT SECRECY FOR ALASKA TEST RESULTS

Chevron U.S.A. and Standard Alaska Production Co. have gone to court to try to keep secret the test results of the only well drilled in the heart of Alaska's coastal plain adjacent to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The KIC #1 well was drilled by the companies, subsidiaries of Chevron Corp. and BP America Inc., the U.S. affiliate of British Petroleum Co.The well lies in territory owned by the Inupiat Eskimos, just outside the boundary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The two companies, together with the landowner, Arctic Slope Regional Corp., a native development corporation, are contesting the 24-month confidentiality rule that gives the state the right to examine test results two years after drilling is officially suspended - in this case, May 24 of this year. Last week they obtained a preliminary injunction in the Anchorage Superior Court to keep the data secret, with the next hearing scheduled for Friday.

Under the ruling, the Department of Natural Resources, upon examining the data, can grant an extension of confidentiality if there is unleased land in the area and the well data is significant. The extension would apply until 90 days after nearby acreage is leased.

According to the DNR's petroleum manager Bill van Dyke, Chevron is arguing primarily that there should be no obligation to make public test results from wells on private lands but also, in any case, the state should be able to grant an extension of confidentiality without examining the data.

The reason Chevron and Standard have chosen to make a case out of this well in particular, according to Chevron spokesman Tom Gallagher, is that the DNR has indicated that it intends to use the results to determine the value of its own lands in the area and to fuel the arguments for opening up the refuge for leasing. Congress is considering opening the area to oil exploration, something that is bitterly contested by environmentalists.

There has been considerable oil industry interest in the well, drilled in the Jago River Delta. The area is believed to hold considerable oil reserves, a continuation of the mammoth oil field at Prudhoe Bay, 70 miles to the west. The KIC #1 is the only look the industry has had at the subsurface geology in the immediate area.

The $50 million well was drilled during 1985-1986 by Chevron in a joint venture with BP America and Sohio Alaska - which have since merged - near the village of Kaktovik on the Arctic Coastal Plain. The surface and subsurface rights to the land are owned by the Kaktovik Inupiat Corp., representing the residents of Kaktovik, and Arctic Slope Regional Corp., though there are federal and state-owned lands nearby.

Next month, some of the state-owned lands in the area are due to come up for auction under Sale #55, which finally received the go-ahead earlier this month.

The DNR had said it would use the test results from Chevron's KIC #1 to help assess the value of the acreage coming under the hammer, some of which is less than a mile from the well site. However, if an extension of confidentiality is granted in this case, it would not expire until after nearby federal lands were also leased - that is, until the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is opened up for exploration.