Arctic Exploration Isn’t New

August 21, 2015 in Global Opportunity

Energy exploration and development has been conducted in the Arctic for over 80 years. Estimated to hold over a fifth of the world’s hydrocarbon resources, the Arctic will continue to be a critical link to America’s energy future. The abbreviated list below outlines historical events relevant to Arctic energy development.

1867: The Alaska Purchase from the Russian Empire. (Source)

1888: Western scientific investigations of Alaskan waters began with the US Fisheries Bureau flagship Albatross. (Source)


1900: First Alaskan wells drilled on the south end of the Insikin Peninsula on the west shore of Cook Inlet. Oil flows but not enough to support production. (Source)

1911: New wells began to produce significant oil in Katalla, AK and lasted until 1933. (Source)

1915: First successful circumnavigation of Northeast Passage by Russian expedition using icebreaker. (Source)

1920: ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil Discovery of the world’s most northerly oil field at the time – Norman Wells. (Source)

1920: ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil develop the first commercial oil field and refinery in Arctic conditions. (Source)

1944: U.S. Geological Survey and the Navy begin exploration program and test wells drilled. (Source)


1952: Beginning of Shell’s first geological summer mapping. (Source)

1956: Shell conducts first offshore seismic study of Alaska; Wide Bay, on Alaska’s south coast. (Source)

1957: First successful circumnavigation of Northwest Passage by United States Coast Guard Icebreaker. (Source)

1957: Discovery of Swanson River field on the Kenai Peninsula, aids in Alaska’s bid for statehood. It is the first giant oil field in Alaska. (Source)

1958: First federal lease sale on Alaskan North Slope. (Source)

1958: Shell and Humble Oil and Refining Co. drill Bear Creek No. 1 wildcat well, onshore Alaska Peninsula. (Source)

1959: Alaska Statehood. (Source)


1960: Arctic National Wildlife Range designated as wilderness impacting 9 million acres of land on the North Slope. (Source)

1962: The Soviet Union makes the first major energy discovery in the Arctic with the Tazovskoye oil-and-gas field on the shore of an inlet of the Kara Sea in western Siberia. (Source)

1962: Middle Ground Shoal oil field was discovered off Port Nikiski. Nearly 1.3 billion barrels have since been produced from the Cook Inlet. (Source)

1963: Shell drills the first offshore oil field in Alaska: Middle Ground Shoal No. 1 discovery well in Cook Inlet. (Source)

1964: Shell installs permanent offshore drilling and production structure in the Middle Ground Shoal of Cook Inlet, the first of sixteen platforms. (Source)

1965: ExxonMobil discovers Granite Point field in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. (Source)

1965: Significant oil deposits found in Zapolyarnoye Field in Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region in Soviet Union, large-scale field development follows. (Source)


1966: First ExxonMobil ice-resistant platform installed in Cook Inlet. (Source)

1968: ARCO and Standard Oil drill first well the Prudhoe Bay field on Alaska’s North Slope. (Source)

1969: First oil tanker transit through the Canadian Northwest Passage. (Source)

1971: Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act is passed by Congress; clears the way for authorization of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System . (Source)

1973: ExxonMobil constructs first artificial exploration island in the Beaufort Sea.

1975: Trans Alaskan Pipeline System construction begins, enabling major oil field development on North Slope. (Source)

1976: Shell drills first exploratory well in the Gulf of Alaska. (Source)


1977: Trans Alaska Pipeline ships first oil. (Source)

1977: Production of Prudhoe Bay field begins with original projection of 9.6 billion in total reserves. Oil from Alaska’s North Slope has been responsible for nearly 20% of U.S. domestic oil. Over 10 billion barrels have been produced from the field to date, making it the largest field in U.S. history. (Source)

1978: Endicott oil field discovered in the Beaufort Sea – first field discovered offshore in the U.S. Arctic (Source)

1979: First Arctic offshore lease sale offered by U.S. government in the Beaufort Sea. (Source)


1980: 11 million acres added to Arctic National Wildlife Range, renamed Arctic Nation Wildlife Refuge. (Source)

1982: Shell completes Seal Island well in the Beaufort Sea, later developed by BP under the name Northstar field. (Source)

1984: Shell and Gulf drill nine wells in the St. George Basin of the Bering Sea. (Source)

1984: Shell strikes oil in Beaufort at Seal Island. (Source)

1984: Shell makes Cook Inlet oil discovery. (Source)

1984: Snohvit field discovered in Norway. (Source)

1985: Shell, Gulf and Arco complete three wells in the St George Basin of the Bering Sea (Source)

1986: Shell drills Corona and Harvard exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea; Shell discovers Sandpiper field. (Source)

1987: Shell conducts seismic mapping of the Chukchi Sea and drills four offshore exploration wells. (Source)

1988: Companies pay $478 million for 350 Chukchi sea leases. (Source)

1988: North Slope production peaks at 2 million bpd. (Source)

1988: ExxonMobil drills northernmost offshore well at the time with mobile offshore drilling unit in the Barents Sea. (Source)

1989: Shell drills Klondike well in the Chukchi Sea. (Source)

1989: Shell begins Chukchi Sea exploration with water depths of 130 feet to 180 feet. (Source)

1989: Gas discovery in the Chukchi Sea – Shell’s Chukchi Sea Burger well site. (Source)


1990: Shell completes Popcorn and Burger wells in the Chukchi Sea; finds major gas accumulation at Burger. (Source)

1991: Shell drills Crackerjack well in the Chukchi Sea, the fourth of four wells in Chukchi. (Source)

1992: Petro Star builds Valdez refinery, last major U.S. refinery for two decades. (Source)

1996: All of Shell’s Chukchi Sea leases were relinquished to the federal government. (Source)

1996: Gas production in Cook Inlet peaks at 223 bcf/year. (Source)

1996: Arctic Council Established. The eight Arctic states sign the Ottawa Declaration, creating the Arctic Council. (Source)

1997: Drilling of BP’s Liberty No.1 exploratory well begins. (Source)

1997: Hibernia start-up; First iceberg-resistant gravity-based structure establishing an important test case for offshore drilling capabilities. (Source)


2000: Alpine field begins production, operated by Conoco Phillips. (Source)

2001: Shell returns to Alaska; bids $2.4 million on 13 leases in Oct. 14 North Slope Area wide lease sale. (Source)

2003: Pioneer makes Ooguruk oil discovery in Beaufort Sea. (Source)

2005: Industry bids $46.7 million in Beaufort Sea lease sale. (Source)


2006: Shell, ConocoPhillips and GX Technology conduct seismic in the Chukchi Sea ahead of 2007 lease sale. (Source)

2007: Russians plant flag on seabed of North Pole symbolically claiming huge portion of the Arctic. (Source)

2007: Arctic sea ice retreats to its lowest level since satellite imaging began in 1979. The unprecedented melting sparks new interest in the region’s economic prospects. (Source)

2008: Alaska lease sale breaks records garnering $2.6 billion. (Source)

2008: The U.S. Geological Survey releases report stating that the Arctic represents almost 22% of the world’s remaining undiscovered oil reserves. (Source)


2011: BOEM issues conditional approval for Shell 2012 Chukchi Sea Exploration Plan (Source)

2011: First Supertanker Transits the Northern Sea Route. (Source)

2012: World’s First LNG Supply via the Northern Sea Route. (Source)

2012: Shell completes top-hole wells in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea. (Source)

2013: First Russian offshore field in Arctic is established by Gazprom in the Pechora Sea. (Source)

2014: Shell submits new exploration plan for Alaska OCS. (Source)

2014: Russia’s Prirazlomnaya, the world’s first ever ice-resistant oil platform begins production. (Source)

2015: BOEM conditionally approves Shell’s revised Chukchi Sea exploration plan. Shell prepares to drill during summer open water season. (Source)

2015: Shell begins drilling exploratory well in the Chukchi Sea. (Source)