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Oil & Gas

Ice Roads

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Resource exploration and maintenance on Alaska’s North Slope presents unique challenges with respect to off-road travel logistics. Locations for exploratory drilling and maintenance of infrastructure often reside outside of existing roads and pads, requiring the need to build seasonal ice roads or snow trails for transport of equipment and personnel during the harsh winter work season.

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Off-road travel and ice road construction, if not well-managed, can lead to irreparable damage to tundra ecosystems. Thus, criteria are set in place by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that establishes environmental thresholds for when ice road construction can begin:

DNR will implement tundra opening for general cross country travel in wet sedge tundra when a minimum 15 cm (6 inches) of snow cover is available and ground hardness reaches a minimum of 75 drops of the slide hammer to penetrate one foot of ground. At this combination of ground and snow conditions, no significant change in the depth of active layer, soil moisture, or vegetation composition and structure is anticipated.

DNR has determined that once a minimum threshold of 23 cm (9 inches) of snow cover and a ground hardness of 25 drops of the slide hammer for one foot of soil penetration has been attained, general tundra opening in tussock tundra can proceed without a significant change in active layer depth, soil moisture, or vegetation community composition and structure.

Further, while construction and use of seasonal ice roads necessarily mitigates impact on the tundra, logistics are further complicated as the winter oil exploration season has become ever shorter (Figure 1). Thus, methods to maximize the winter work season are critical in order to mobilize and demobilize drilling equipment, camps and personnel, and complete exploratory drilling objectives in a relatively short winter window.

beadedstream Solution

Since 2014, beadedstream has worked with dozens of clients to maximize their North Slope winter work season, where companies that utilize beadedstream data solutions can achieve travel permits weeks ahead of general opening. Through mobilization of beadedstream Tundra Kits, tundra snow and temperature conditions can be observed in real time throughout the path of a given ice road route.

Tundra kit installation includes two Tundra DTCs, Satellite-ready data logger with solar recharge, and installation hardware. A single site can be deployed by two beadedstream personnel in roughly 45 minutes. In line with state agencies, beadedstream recommends a minimum of 1 site per 3 – 5 miles of ice road route to account for tundra-type variability and have some amount of data acquisition redundancy.

Some benefits include:

  • Real time, remote monitoring of snow cover and ground temperatures throughout the ice road route.
  • Easily share numerical and graphical data with project owners, contractors and state agencies.
  • Use real-time tundra data as a data-case for state agencies, to gain early tundra travel access.
  • Maximize your season duration, and complete drilling objectives under state compliance!

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