KENAI, Alaska — State officials have approved a plan for Hilcorp Alaska to develop a gravel pad southeast of Ninilchik on the Kenai Peninsula to support natural gas drilling operations.

The Alaska subsidiary of Houston, Texas-based Hilcorp Energy Co. applied last year to build the pad to make way for new exploration wells. The company has been expanding its operations in the Ninilchik area since 2013, The Peninsula Clarion reported (

The Alaska Division of Oil and Gas approved an operational plan for Hilcorp that will allow the company to build the nearly 2-acre pad and drill wells to target natural gas discovered offshore.

“The angle of drilling to reach the offshore target leaves a limited surface area suitable for pad location,” according to the plan.

Hilcorp worked with Ninilchik Natives Association Inc. on plans for the pad, which will be built on land owned by the village corporation.

The project calls for vegetation clearing to start right away and drilling activities to begin in November. The construction of a gravel access road, pad and flowline could be complete by mid-November, while drilling for the first well would also begin next month and continue through April 2017, the plan states.

“The project is expected to begin as soon as all applicable permits and authorizations are received,” according to the plan. “The project schedule may change and dates may move forward or back.”

Hilcorp eventually plans to drill four wells at the site.

Drilling crews will have to be aware of an eagle nest that was identified by surveyors in December 2014 about 1,000 feet from the center of the proposed pad. Hilcorp said it expects no impacts to the nest from oil and gas operations.

“Hilcorp will monitor the nest during pad construction and drilling activities to determine if the nest is occupied,” the plan states. “If the nest is determined to be occupied, it will be monitored during construction/drilling activities to detect any abnormal behavior of the adult eagles or their chicks; monitoring will continue until the chicks have successfully fledged.”

The addition of the new gravel pad will bring the total number of pads operated by Hilcorp to nine across the company’s Ninilchik Unit, located on the west side of the Sterling Highway.

Information from: (Kenai, Alaska) Peninsula Clarion,