One of Alaska's most controversial offshore oil ventures, BP's Arctic Ocean Northstar
field, is gearing up to drill as early as November -- and company officials say another similar project could soon follow. The Northstar is the target of fervent environmental criticism because it is the first U.S. offshore Arctic production project to use an undersea pipeline. It is leading the way for the Liberty, a nearly identical project now undergoing environmental impact scrutiny
by the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers, BP officials said Tuesday.
The fields, which hold between 140 million and 150 million barrels of crude oil each, could eventually help steady Alaska's falling production and ease a long decline in U.S. domestic oil output
. Drilling from the Northstar field is expected to begin sometime between November 2000 and January 2001, with production beginning in late 2001 at roughly 65,000 barrels per day, said BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell.
BP insists Northstar, which runs an oil pipeline for six miles (9.6 kilometers) beneath the Beaufort Sea to the tundra shore, is safe, and adds that Liberty, several miles to the east, will not become anything more than a proposal unless it earns environmental regulatory approval.