Production began at the Kuparuk River oil field on Dec. 13, 1981, three months ahead of schedule.
When the board gave the go-ahead in 1979 to spend $450 million for initial field development, it was expected that production would begin April 1, 1982. Paul Norgaard, president of ARCO Alaska, said ARCO was able to speed up completion by giving the project priority status.
Initial production was expected to average 80,000 barrels per day from 40 wells on five gravel drill sites.
ARCO owned all the state oil and gas leases in the 20-square mile area included in the initial development and said agreement was expected soon among leaseholders in the entire Kuparuk field to operate the field as a unit, with ARCO as operator.
Ultimate recovery, with successful waterflood, was expected to range between 1.2 billion and 1.5 billion barrels of oil.
But by the end of November 2006, Kuparuk and its satellites (Tabasco, Tarn, West Sak and Meltwater) had produced 2.19 billion barrels of oil according to Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission records.
ConocoPhillips said Kuparuk reached the 2-million-barrel milestone in April 2004; the company said more than 2.6 billion barrels of an estimated 6 billion barrels of original oil in place are expected to be recovered.
Expansion, waterfloodARCO said at startup that plans called for two additional central production facilities over the next four years, boosting production to 250,000 bpd. That production level was based on waterflood. Expansion plans called for the second CPF to go into operation in 1984, boosting production to about 200,000 bpd. A third facility, scheduled to start up in 1986, would boost the total to 250,000 bpd. By the time the field was fully developed it was expected to cost the owners $10 billion.
Natural gas produced at Kuparuk along with the crude oil would be re-injected into the reservoir until gas sales occur “sometime in the future,” ARCO said in 1981. At 80,000 bpd, ARCO expected the field would produce 35 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. A portion would be used for fuel at the field and about 25 million cubic feet a day re-injected.
A 16-inch pipeline was constructed to carry Kuparuk oil to Pump Station 1 of the trans-Alaska pipeline.
Facilities included a 96-bed operations center delivered on the 1980 summer sealift and opened late that year with dining and kitchen facilities, a theatre, card and game rooms and an exercise room.
CPF-1, the first of three central processing facilities, was delivered on the 1981 sealift.
Kuparuk oil is heavier than Prudhoe, 23 degrees API vs. 27 degrees API for Prudhoe. Kuparuk oil is 1.6 percent sulfur, the company said, compared to 0.5 percent sulfur for Prudhoe crude.
Kuparuk waterflood, begun in 1983, came on before waterflood at Prudhoe in 1984.
The net sand thickness averages about 50 feet in the Kuparuk reservoir compared to nearly 600 feet at Prudhoe, and average initial well rates for Kuparuk are expected to be 1,500 bpd, compared to 10,000 bpd at Prudhoe.
Peak higher than projectedIn 1981, ARCO expected Kuparuk production to peak in 1986 at 250,000 bpd. Production actually peaked at 322,000 bpd in 1992.
Kuparuk has been the second largest U.S. oil field. In 2005, however, it dropped to third, behind the Wasson field in Texas, in ranking by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration based on liquids proved reserves from estimated 2005 field level data. Prudhoe ranked first.
Based on volume produced in 2005, Prudhoe would still be first, Mississippi Canyon Block 807 (Mars-Ursa) in the Gulf of Mexico would be second, Wasson third and Kuparuk fourth.