Drilling levels low
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Pandemic related drop in activity in 2020 continued in 2021 on the Slope
for Petroleum News
Drilling activity on the North Slope remained low in 2021, continuing a trend observed in the previous year as a consequence of the impact of the COVID pandemic, according to data published by the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. In total 26 development wells were completed on the Slope in 2021. This data does not include ConocoPhillips well CD2-310, the ultra extended reach well for accessing the Fiord West satellite field - this well was begun in 2021 but was not completed until 2022.
North Slope development drillingThe relatively low number of development wells on the North Slope contrasts with the 91 development wells completed in 2019. In 2020 drilling was fairly active during the first four months of year, but tailed off as the pandemic hit, with just 39 development wells being completed for the year as a whole.
Prominent in the 2021 data was drilling by Hilcorp Alaska in the Milne Point unit, where Hilcorp is pursuing the use of polymer injection for the development of viscous oil in the Schrader Bluff formation. Hilcorp drilled 10 wells at Milne Point, six of them into the Schrader Bluff and four into the deeper Kuparuk River oil pool.
In January Hilcorp told the state that the Prudhoe Bay working interest owners had not approved a drilling program for 2021, because of the COVID pandemic. However, in July the company announced that it anticipated drilling up to six new wells, including production and injection wells, in the Orion participating area of the Prudhoe Bay Western Satellites. Ultimately the company completed three development wells into the Schrader Bluff in the Orion participating area.
Apart from its drilling program, Hilcorp has been actively focusing on increasing Prudhoe Bay production through well remediation, together with the repair and improvement of oilfield equipment.
ConocoPhillips completed eight development wells, not including the CD2-310 well, in 2021. Two of these wells were in the Greater Mooses Tooth unit, while the remainder were in the Kuparuk River field.
Injection wellsA total of 17 injection wells were completed on the North Slope in 2021. That compares with 29 injection wells completed in 2019, and 24 in 2020. Hilcorp drilled nine of the wells completed in 2021, with one drilled in the Prudhoe Bay unit and the remainder in the Milne Point unit. Most of the Hilcorp injection wells accessed the Schrader Bluff. ConocoPhillips drilled four injection wells in the Alpine field, two in the Greater Mooses Tooth unit and one in the Kuparuk River field.
Sparse exploration drillingAs in 2020, North Slope exploration drilling in 2021 was very sparse. Only two exploration wells were formally completed in 2021. One was ConocoPhillips’ Kuparuk River Unit 3S 24-B well, a side-track well designed to test the Coyote prospect, west of the Kuparuk River field. The other was 88 Energy’s Merlin 1 well, drilled in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, north of Umiat. Great Bear Pantheon drilled the Talitha No. 8 well near the Dalton Highway, south of Prudhoe Bay, although this well was not formally recorded as completed until this year.
By comparison, the drilling of exploration wells on the North Slope had been increasing between 2017 and 2019, before dropping from 15 wells completed in 2019 to seven wells in 2020 and three in 2021.
Overall, the drilling on the North Slope in 2021was spread across the year, in contrast with 2020, when much of the drilling occurred early in the year, before the COVID pandemic hit.
Drilling in Cook InletIn 2021 the Cook Inlet region saw the drilling of eight development wells, all of them drilled by Hilcorp. That compares with 14 development wells drilled in 2019 and 10 in 2020. One of the development wells in 2021 was designed to support gas storage in the Swanson River field, while the others targeted gas resources in the North Cook Inlet, Granite Point and Kenai fields. Hilcorp also drilled a service well to support gas storage in the Kenai field.
Hilcorp completed three exploration and appraisal wells in the Cook Inlet region in 2021: one in the Beluga River unit, one in the Whiskey Gulch unit and one in the Seaview unit. By comparison, Hilcorp completed four shallow stratigraphic test wells at Whiskey Gulch in 2019 and eight similar stratigraphic test wells at Whiskey Gulch in 2020. In 2019 Hilcorp also suspended an appraisal sidetrack well at Trading Bay.
The only other drilling program in Alaska in 2021 consisted of the completion of 13 shallow stratigraphic test wells by Hilcorp in the Yukon Flats basin in the Interior. According to AOGCC data, Hilcorp had applied to drill 15 of these wells, but two of the permits had been cancelled. The drilling of these wells followed a Hilcorp strategy of drilling shallow stratigraphic test wells to evaluate the possibility of discovering oil and gas resources through the drilling of deeper wells.