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Alaska Native corporation expands reach with acquisition of oilfield company

Alex DeMarban
Aaron Jansen illustration

The Alaska Native regional corporation that opposes the controversial Pebble prospect and offshore oil and gas leasing in its Bristol Bay backyard is expanding its footprint in the oil industry, acquiring an Alaska oilfield services company that reaches into North Dakota but remains busy in the 49th state, building ice roads, hauling drilling rigs and employing a lot of Alaskans.

The Bristol Bay Native Corporation announced on Tuesday it had signed a "definitive agreement" to acquire Peak Oilfield Service  from Nabors Alaska Services Corp. The move comes as the parent company -- drilling contractor Nabors Industries of Houston, Texas -- looks to streamline operations to focus on drilling. Nabors' stock rose nearly 3 percent on Tuesday.  

The sale price was not disclosed. Nabors, owner of the world's largest fleet of land-based drilling rigs, said this sale and other recent asset sales will "more than cover" the $207 million needed to refinance costly debt.

Peak had previously been owned by another regional Native corporation. Cook Inlet Regional Inc. sold its 50 percent stake in the company in 2011 for $65 million, making Nabors the sole owner.

Jason Metrokin, president and chief executive of BBNC, said the purchase will lead to increased earnings for the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, though he would not say how much.  

Alaska Native corporations have become a bright spot in a state economy reliant largely on oil production, with BBNC playing a key role. The company's revenues in 2011 -- nearly $2 billion -- were enough to place it at second on Alaska Business Monthly's list of Alaska-owned and operated businesses.  

But BBNC has managed to temper its desire for growth with a unique environmental perspective. Responding to concerns from many of its 9,100 Native shareholders in Southwest Alaska, BBNC's board in 2009 voted to oppose the Pebble project, a massive copper, gold and molybdenum prospect that many fear will pollute and destroy the region's valuable commercial salmon fishery.  The BBNC board also voted that year to oppose the federal government's plan to allow offshore oil and gas leasing in the North Aleutian basin in order to protect fishing resources.

"We've said at every turn we support responsible resource development," and that includes in the oil and gas industry, said Metrokin.

A pair of BBNC subsidiaries already provide spill response and pipeline integrity testing. BBNC's role in the oilfield business will expand dramatically if the purchase goes through. The sale should be finalized toward the end of the year, pending the usual regulatory approval, a statement from BBNC said.

Besides increased income for BBNC, the acquisition will provide the company with more opportunities to train and employ in the lucrative oil and gas sector, Metrokin said.

Peak employs more than 700 employees, and more than 80 percent of those are Alaskans. The company has grown from more than $20 million in revenues since shortly after its founding in 1987 to more than $100 million, said longtime president Mike O'Connor.

Peak has an extensive presence in the North Slope oil fields in the Arctic and in Cook Inlet, and it has likely built more ice roads than anyone else in Alaska. Among its more recent projects, Peak serviced a well in Nenana in the Interior as Doyon Ltd., another Native regional corporation, searches for oil and gas. Peak also built a challenging ice road for Nordaq Energy in Cook Inlet, far from the much-colder clime in Prudhoe Bay where ice roads are typically built. And as it has done for years, Peak continues to clean tanks in Valdez, and haul fuel, water and drilling rigs to remote camps.  

"We kind of keep doing the things that no one else wants to do, if you want to know the truth," said O'Connor.

Peak also now employs about 50 workers in the booming oil province of North Dakota, where it has been involved in a project to build an oil-collection center in the town of Tioga to support oil moving east and west across the U.S. by rail.

BBNC has said it would like to see Peak continue operating as is, which includes continued growth, O'Connor said. He said he's hoping the partnership increases the number of Alaskans available to work for Peak.

"It just makes common sense," said O'Connor. "They're easier to send home, easier to bring back" and their schedules are more flexible, allowing them to stay longer if needed, or go home earlier when the work is done.

Said Metrokin of the deal: "We're excited because Bristol Bay Native Corp. has been looking for opportunities in Alaska for several years now, and Peak has a legacy of providing quality oilfield service support here in Alaska and the Lower 48."

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com