Alaska’s largest oil producer asks judge to block release of drilling info from NPR-A

An aerial view of one of the exploration pads and wells that ConocoPhillips drilled during the 2018 exploration season at its Willow prospect. (Photo courtesy of Judy Patrick Photography/ConocoPhillips Alaska)

Alaska’s largest oil producer is trying to block a state commission from publicly releasing information from exploratory drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

ConocoPhillips Alaska is asking a judge to issue an injunction against the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that would maintain the confidentiality of records the commission has from Conoco’s wells in the NPR-A.

In a court filing Friday, Conoco says it has spent tens of millions of dollars exploring in the NPR-A, a roughly 23 million-acre area on Alaska’s North Slope. The leases are on federal land, managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, and Conoco says the data from its wells is protected by federal law as proprietary information.

Conoco says disclosing the well data would benefit its competitors and reveal company trade secrets.

“The confidentiality of the well data from federal leases in the NPR-A is a question of federal law that is properly decided by federal courts,” wrote Rebecca Boys, a Conoco Alaska spokeswoman, in an email.

But there are overlapping federal and state regulations for the wells, and state law allows for the disclosure of well data two years after the completion of a well, which is the case for all of Conoco’s NPR-A wells included in the court filing.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is a state agency aimed at protecting the public’s interest in producing and conserving natural resources in a way that’s safe for people and the environment. So while the commission isn’t responsible for managing the federal leases, it still has some regulatory oversight and keeps records from such drilling.

Conoco had sought to have the state Department of Natural Resources extend the confidentiality of its well data past the two-year limit, but that request was denied in 2021. The company has an administrative appeal on the issue in state court that remains open.

Through a spokesperson, the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said it could not comment on pending litigation.

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