Vol. 25, No.44 Week of November 01, 2020
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Willow ROD signed

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ConocoPhillips reviewing ROD; decision to move into FEED later this year

Kristen Nelson

Petroleum News

The U.S. Department of the Interior signed the record of decision Oct. 26 on the final environmental impact statement for ConocoPhillips Alaska’s Willow master development plan.

ConocoPhillips requested preparation of a Willow master development plan in May 2018. Interior’s Bureau of Land Management published a notice of intent to prepare an EIS in the Federal Register in August 2018 and a final EIS was released this August.

Willow, a discovery the company made in 2016 at its Bear Tooth unit in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, is the farthest west of ConocoPhillips’ North Slope developments, west of the company’s producing units at Greater Mooses Tooth in NPR-A and the Colville River on state acreage.

Willow has projected production of 160,000 barrels per day and a processing capacity of 200,000 bpd, BLM said, with production over a 30-year life estimated to total some 586 million barrels of oil.

In an Oct. 27 email ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman said the company was pleased the record of decision has been issued and is reviewing it.

“The ROD is the key milestone that allows us to move forward with project planning,” she said.

“A decision on moving into FEED (Front End Engineering and Design) will be made later this year, but project construction could begin in 2021 subject to receiving regulatory approvals,” Lowman said.

ConocoPhillips said in July that it expected a final investment decision this year and first oil in 2025-26.

Two drill sites deferred

The Bureau of Land Management said in a press release that the ROD deferred a decision on portions of the proposal, including drill sites Bear Tooth 4 and Bear Tooth 5 and gravel roads and pipelines associated with those drill sites.

BLM said the deferral, requested by ConocoPhillips Aug. 20, does not alter the current proposal.

The Bear Tooth drill sites run roughly north to south, with Bear Tooth 1 about in the middle. Bear Tooth drill site 4 is the farthest north of the Willow drill sites and Bear Tooth drill site 5 the farthest south.

BLM said the two drill sites and the road and pipeline segments which would connect them to Bear Tooth drill sites 2 and 3 are being deferred, “to allow the Proponent to undertake additional consultation with stakeholders in the community of Nuiqsut to further address concerns some stakeholders have raised regarding potential impacts to caribou migration and subsistence hunting associated with these portions of the Project, prior to BLM addressing approval of thee drill sites in a record of decision.”

BLM said construction was planned to begin in 2021 for the main part of the project, while “construction of drill sites BT4 and BT5 would occur during a later phase of development beginning in 2026.” The agency said construction is expected to take nine years.

“When the Proponent has completed its additional consultation with the community of Nuiqsut and seeks authorization for drill sites BT4 and BT5, this ROD may be amended to address approval of those drill sites,” BLM said.

Access issues

BLM said the Willow project would extend an all-season gravel road from Greater Mooses Tooth southwest with gravel roads connecting all project gravel infrastructure including the Willow Processing Facility, Willow Operations Center and the drill sites. The project also includes a constructed freshwater reservoir, valve pads, pipeline pads, water source access pads, road turnouts with subsistence access ramps, bridges, horizontal directional drilling pipeline pads at the Colville River and up to three boat ramps for subsistence use.

“The access road alignment would provide direct gravel-road access from the existing gravel road network in the GMT and Alpine developments to the Project facilities,” BLM said. “The all-season gravel road connection to Alpine would allow for additional operational safety and risk reduction by providing redundancies and additional contingencies for each development,” as well as providing support for “reasonably foreseeable future actions,” the agency said.

Roadless alternatives were considered, but BLM said the increase in air traffic with roadless alternatives would be substantial, increasing overall disturbance to caribou in the case of one alternative and requiring an airstrip close to a high-density caribou calving area with the other alternative.

BLM said a diesel pipeline from Kuparuk Central Processing Facility 2 to the Willow Processing Facility was considered, in lieu of trucking diesel from Alpine, but rejected.

The agency said a diesel pipeline extension to the Willow Processing Facility would add a year to project construction, and the diesel pipeline extension would not be in operation until the end of construction, while the greatest need for diesel would be during construction. After construction, diesel would only be pumped from Alpine to Willow a few days a month, with the pipeline idle the rest of the time, increasing “the potential for sedimentation and corrosion within the pipeline, which increase the risk of a diesel spill from the pipeline.”

In the FEIS, BLM identified ConocoPhillips’ proposal as its preferred alternative.

That included the third sealift module delivery option, which ConocoPhillips proposed following objections to the first two options which required construction of gravel islands. The third option would transport modules for the project via sealift to Oliktok Point, which has an existing dock, and from there by ice road across the Colville River.

That proposal, along with other less substantial changes, was included in a supplemental EIS issued in March of this year.

The ROD confirmed selection of the proponent’s proposal for the project.

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