Do You Know the Way to Prudhoe Bay?

OK, I know. The title is corny. But have you ever been to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, home of the largest oil field in the U.S. and one of the world’s truly great geological features? Have you ever been to Alaska? Oh, you went to Alaska on a cruise ship? Yes, the cruise ships are very nice, but have you seen the pipeline? Or the vast open spaces of the interior? Have you ever seen a real Alaska gold mine? Or rocks from the Earth’s mantle? Or the immense ranges of mountains that span that great landmass as you travel south from the Pacific Ocean, north to the Arctic Sea? Have you ever flown over the Brooks Range in a small aircraft?

June 2-11, 2007

Would you like to go to Alaska? The only downside is that on this one you have to go with me. But still, this is a unique opportunity if you are free from June 2-11, 2007. Read on if you are interested.

So, You Are Interested?

The American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) is sponsoring an event entitled “Geological Tour Through Alaska.” AAPG is not associated in any respect with Agora Financial, LLC. That is, Agora is not sponsoring the trip, and I want to make that clear. Sign-up details are at the end of the article, and you will pay your money to AAPG, not to Agora. But I am using this space to plug the trip for my own personal reasons that will become obvious. (Thanks to Whiskey publisher Greg Grillot and my colleagues at Agora for supporting AAPG’s worthy efforts.) So no, this is not one of those Agora trips to do something like learn how to tango in Argentina, fun and very nice as an Agora trip to tango in Argentina always is.

This trip in June is going to the interior of Alaska. You will not be staying at anything like the Las Vegas Bellagio, or at any Fairmont Hotels along the pipeline route. But if you have a sense of adventure, two weeks of available time in early June, and you want to get out, kick some rocks, and rough it with your boots on, this may be a trip of your lifetime. Do you want to know more?

Mark the dates, and allow time for travel there and back, because it’s halfway to China if you are coming from the East Coast. This AAPG trip begins in Anchorage on June 2, and ends in Fairbanks on June 11. I will give you the exact route and description in a few paragraphs. For now, the brief summary is that over those nine days (hard-moving days, you should understand), there is a journey south to the Seward Peninsula, then back up to Fairbanks, and a trek up the Arctic Highway along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) route to Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic Sea. The return to Fairbanks is via airplane, flying south over the mighty Brooks Range. Yes, that Brooks Range. And the airplanes carry rifles, so that if they have to make an emergency landing you can shoot the bears that want to eat you for dinner. (OK, they discourage shooting the bears. But then again, if the plane goes down, it is a long walk home. And trust me, you do not want to encounter angry or hungry bears if you can avoid it.)

What Else Do You Want to Know?

This is a geological field trip, but you do not have to know a kimberlite from a theodolite from a Bud Light to enjoy the vast and utterly spectacular beauty of Alaska. And you will be in the company of some serious geologists who can, and will, talk your ears off in explaining whatever you might want to know. I can say that because I will be among the traveling field trip members.

I can also say that you will not lack for explanation, because the field trip leader is Tom Plawman, a geophysicist who helps plan Prudhoe Bay development wells for BP in Anchorage. Tom first came to Alaska with Arco in 1984. Over the years, he has worked on a variety of Alaskan exploration projects, including the North Slope, the Chukchi Sea, Cook Inlet, Bristol Bay, and various interior basins. Tom is the field trip coordinator for the Alaska Geological Society. So going on this trip with Tom is like having Babe Ruth as your batting coach.

The other field trip leader is David Hite, a consulting petroleum geologist in Anchorage. David recently co-authored reports on Cook Inlet natural gas supply and North Slope oil and gas reserve potential for the U.S. Department of Energy. He is currently consulting for two native corporations and several oil and gas companies. David worked for Arco for 24 years, with the bulk of that time in Alaska. He has geological experience in the Cook Inlet, the North Slope, the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, and many of the interior basins, including participation in geological field programs in most of these areas. David has worked on projects in Alaska since 1967 and has lived in Anchorage since 1979.

So if you go on this AAPG field trip to Alaska, you could not ask for better-qualified people to guide you along the way and explain the rocks behind the beauty.

What Is Going On?

Here is what is going on. AAPG is an international organization that brings together geologists and other earth science professionals who work in the field of petroleum exploration and development. (I have been a member of AAPG for 30 years or so.) AAPG organized the Alaska trip, with a limit of 22 heads, due to space availability on the buses and aircraft. We are coming to the end of the sign-up period — in the first week of April, they tell me. By that time, AAPG has to make hard commitments for travel accommodations, berthing, and aircraft times. But there are only about 12 people on the sign-up list, including me, your Peak Oil correspondent at Whiskey & Gunpowder. So the folks at AAPG are thinking of just canceling the event.

I asked the AAPG trip coordinator, Karen Dotts, if she would mind if I promoted the journey to a few friends. She said, “Go ahead,” and that is why I am contacting you through the good offices of Whiskey & Gunpowder at Agora Financial.

More Details?

Here are more details. Beginning in Anchorage, we will view features related to the 1964 Alaska earthquake, one of the most significant and energetic seismic events of modern times. (The tidal wave generated in Alaska swamped parts of Hawaii.) Then we will drive south to Seward, crossing the Chugach Range, one of the largest examples in the world of what is called an “intact accretionary prism.” (Trust me, it’s totally cool if you are into earth sciences.) At Seward, we will travel on a large tour boat to see spectacular sea cliff outcrops of the Resurrection ophiolite (rocks from the mantle of the Earth), observe an actively calving tidewater glacier, and view an incredible variety of sea birds, marine mammals, and other coastal wildlife.

Heading back north, we will then see what are called “forearc basin” outcrops in the Matanuska Valley, and visit a historic gold mine at Hatcher Pass. Continuing northward, we will spend an entire day at Denali National Park, where we will have the opportunity to see its world-famous wildlife. Weather permitting, we will have spectacular views of Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America. After visiting an active open-pit coal mine (not in the national park), we will proceed to Fairbanks in the interior of Alaska for an evening cruise on a paddlewheel riverboat on the Chena River.

On the following day, the northern part of the trip crosses part of the Yukon-Tanana upland to the beginning of the Dalton Highway, the only highway to the Arctic Ocean. The highway crosses the Yukon River and proceeds northward to cross the Arctic Circle and part of the Koyukuk basin where we will spend the night at the village of Coldfoot, on the southern flank of the Brooks Range. The following day, the tour crosses the spectacular Brooks Range orogenic belt (fancy name for folded rocks) onto the Arctic tundra of the North Slope, the proverbial land of the midnight sun. Then we cross the Colville basin to end at Deadhorse, the gateway to the Prudhoe Bay field. Lodging will be in one of the commercial camps in Deadhorse, with perhaps (weather permitting) a chance to view that very same midnight sun.

The final day is marked by a tour of the Prudhoe Bay oil field in the morning, and an opportunity to walk on the ice of the Arctic Ocean or perhaps dip your toes in the ocean if there is any open water. (Bring your fur-lined swimming trunks.) The field trip across Alaska ends in the afternoon with a scenic aerial flight back across the Brooks Range to Fairbanks in a light two-engine fixed-wing aircraft. If you want a better view of Alaska from the air, you have to be an astronaut.

More Details

Can you make it? There are about 10 spots left as of the time I am writing this article. So if you want to go on this field trip, please check your schedule and make your arrangements as soon as possible.

The cost for the field trip is $3,295, payable to and through AAPG at its sign-up link. When you think about what you are getting for your money, this is quite a trip and worth every dime. For further information you can contact AAPG and speak with Karen Dotts at (918) 560-2621, or e-mail

Again, Agora is not sponsoring this trip. This is an AAPG gig, so act quickly to book a spot if you can make it. And you will have to make your own arrangements to get up to Anchorage, and back from Fairbanks, and for any accommodations outside of the dates of the trip. But on that issue, Agora Travel can help you.

Until we meet again…
Byron W. King

March 26, 2007

The Daily Reckoning