Shell, Conoco, Repsol increase Alaska oil holdings
* Oil companies win oil lease rights
* Bids for state territories top $20.9 million
* Bids for federal NPR territories top $3 million.
By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell on Wednesday acquired exploration rights to state territory off Alaska's northern coast, while ConocoPhillips increased holdings on both state and federal lands on the North Slope.
Shell, ConocoPhillips and Spanish oil company Repsol, which acquired significant North Slope acreage, were active bidders in a series of state and federal oil lease sales held in Anchorage.
Those and other companies and groups submitted over $20.9 million in high bids for state onshore and offshore territory and over $3 million in high bids for federal onshore territory in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Shell won rights to 18 tracts in Harrison Bay, an area north of the federally managed NPR-A. Shell has been working on an ambitious program to drill offshore in federal waters off Alaska's Arctic coastlines, but the move to state offshore territory is new for the company.
Curtis Smith, spokesman for Shell in Alaska, said the company continues to concentrate on its exploration plans in federal waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas but is seeking to diversify its offshore operations.
"We like the geology that we see beneath those particular leases," Smith said. "We're hopeful that there are synergies between the leases we purchased today and the leases we hold on the federal offshore."
Shell is waiting for government approval to drill up to three exploration wells a year in 2012 and 2013 in federal waters of the Chukchi Sea and up to two a year over the same period in the Beaufort.
ConocoPhillips' successful bids were for tracts near its CD-5 oil field prospect in the NPR-A and for about 30 tracts on state territory on the eastern North Slope, south of BP's Badami field.
The CD-5 prospect, which is expected to supply up to 18,000 barrels a day once commercial production starts, is located on the northeastern edge of the petroleum reserve, near state land.
An agreement between federal agencies announced on Monday potentially clears the way for ConocoPhillips to build a road and a bridge linking CD-5 to existing oil field infrastructure on state land, making a pipeline and commercial operations feasible.
Repsol acquired several tracts in the central North Slope and tracts on state lands near the border of the federally managed petroleum reserve.
State officials said they were happy with the response to the sale results.
"Today's lease sale was an important, positive step that attracted additional investment to the North Slope," Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement.
Federal officials also said the industry showed renewed enthusiasm for exploring the petroleum reserve, a vast Indiana-sized land unit on the western North Slope. The likelihood of commercial development in the near future at CD-5 bodes well for future development, they said.
"As industry begins to build infrastructure and explore and develop oil and gas in this area of the North Slope of Alaska, we expect to harness the energy and economic benefits of the NPR-A for our nation," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.
"In support of the President's energy priorities, this lease sale in the NPR-A is an important part of our efforts to develop domestic resources on public lands safely and responsibly," he said.
Wednesday's NPR-A lease sale was held in accordance with a directive issued last spring by President Obama. He ordered that lease sales in the federal unit be held annually.
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