Caelus Energy Alaska, a privately-held independent exploration and production company backed by New York-based private equity firm Apollo Global Management (NYSE: APO), said it has made a world-class oil discovery at its Smith Bay site on the North Slope of Alaska, about 150 miles west of Prudhoe Bay.

The Smith Bay development has the potential to provide 200,000 barrels per day of light, highly mobile oil which would both increase Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) throughput volumes and reduce the average viscosity of oil in the pipeline, extending its long term viability, the company said.

If correct, that production level would make the field more prolific than ConocoPhillips’ Alpine unit that began production in 2000 and reached a production peak of 139,000 barrels in 2007, according to Alaska Dispatch News.

Based on two wells drilled in early 2016 as well as 126 square miles of existing 3D seismic surveys, Caelus estimates the oil in place under the current leasehold to be 6 billion barrels. The Smith Bay fan complex may contain upwards of 10 billion barrels of oil in place when the adjoining acreage is included.

Due to the favorable fluids contained in the reservoir, Caelus said it expects to achieve recovery factors in the range of 30-40%.

“This discovery could be really exciting for the State of Alaska,” said Caelus founder and CEO Jim Musselman. “It has the size and scale to play a meaningful role in sustaining the Alaskan oil business over the next three or four decades.”

Jim Musselman, CEO, Caelus Energy.

Jim Musselman, CEO, Caelus Energy.

“Fiscal stability going forward is critical for a project of this magnitude. Without the state tax credit programs, none of this would’ve happened, and I’m not sure Caelus would’ve come to explore in Alaska,” he added.

The surprising announcement comes five months after the company said it would lay off 25 percent of its 80-person work force and suspend drilling at its Oooguruk oil field, in response to low oil prices, as well Governor Bill Walker administration’s proposals to scale back subsidies for smaller companies like Caelus, and to raise the minimum oil tax.

Caelus Energy is headquartered in Dallas, with offices and operations in Alaska. Formed by Musselman in 2011, Caelus Energy has deep roots in the oil and gas industry. Musselman previously led Kosmos Energy, which discovered the 1 billion-plus barrel Jubilee field off the West African coast, and Triton Energy, which was acquired by Amerada Hess for $3.2 billion.

In 2014, Apollo and Caelus Energy formed a strategic partnership to invest up to $1 billion in oil and gas properties in Alaska. Greg Beard, global head of natural resources and senior partner at Apollo, serves on Caelus Energy’s board of directors.

Apollo is a leading global alternative investment manager with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Bethesda, Toronto, London, Frankfurt, Madrid, Luxembourg, Mumbai, Delhi, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. The firm had assets under management of $186 billion as of June 30, 2016.

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