Vol. 26, No.9 Week of February 28, 2021
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

COVID impacts drilling

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Notably fewer Slope development wells in 2nd half of 2020; fewer total wells

Alan Bailey

for Petroleum News

With just 38 development wells completed in North Slope oil fields in 2020, compared with 88 wells in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic clearly impacted drilling activity in the Alaska oil industry. The picture becomes still clearer when looking at the timing of the drilling: 28 of the development wells drilled in 2020 were completed prior to the beginning of May, according to data published by the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

In the first four months of the year ConocoPhillips completed 11 development wells in the Kuparuk River field and five in the Colville River unit. BP completed six development wells in the Prudhoe Bay field, while Hilcorp Alaska completed six in the Milne Point field. However, following the spread of the pandemic in the United States, ConocoPhillips announced a drilling rig laydown from April for the remainder of the year. BP completed two wells at Prudhoe Bay in May. Hilcorp continued drilling, albeit at a slower rate than previously, completing eight development wells in the Milne Point field during the remainder of the year. There was very little development drilling from July onwards.

By comparison, in 2019 development drilling was spread throughout the year, with a particularly large number of wells completed in November. While much of the 2019 drilling was in the Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk River fields, Hilcorp conducted drilling in the Milne Point field, while ConocoPhillips continued development drilling from its CD5 pad in the Colville River unit.

Injection wells

In total 24 injection wells were drilled on the North Slope in 2020, to improve field production. Some of these wells were for water injection, and some for water alternating gas. That compares with 29 injection wells drilled in 2019. In 2020, however, 17 of the injection wells were drilled prior to the beginning of May. In that earlier part of the year ConocoPhillips drilled three injectors in the Kuparuk River field and three in the Colville River unit. Hilcorp completed five injection wells in the Milne Point field, while BP completed five in the Prudhoe Bay field. Eni US Operating Co. Inc. drilled a single water injection well in the Nikaitchuq field.

And, as with the development drilling, only Hilcorp completed any injection wells after the beginning of May. All seven of these wells were drilled in the Milne Point field. Moreover, only one injection well was complete in April, also a well in the Milne Point field.

In its 38th plan of development for Milne Point, filed in 2019 for the period Jan. 13, 2020, to Jan. 12, 2021, Hilcorp said that it anticipated drilling up to 28 new wells in the field during that period. In the event, the company drilled a total of 26 wells in the field.

Exploration and appraisal

At first sight, it appears that the drilling of exploration and field appraisal wells in 2020 followed a normal pattern. These wells are drilled during the winter off-road travel season. And so, as is typical, there were well completions in February, March and April, with a total of seven wells eventually being completed. ConocoPhillips drilled two Tinmiaq appraisal wells in its Willow discovery, as well as its Harpoon exploration well, also in the northeastern part of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Oil Search completed three appraisal wells in the Nanushuk play: two Mitquq wells and one Stirrup well. Accumulate Energy Alaska, a subsidiary of 88 Energy, completed its Charlie 1 appraisal well in its central North Slope Icewine project.

However, ConocoPhillips had originally planned four Tinmiaq wells: The company cut its appraisal drilling program short because of COVID-19. So, the total number of appraisal and exploration wells on the North Slope did fall a bit below what had originally been planned.

By comparison, in 2019 13 North Slope exploration and appraisal wells were drilled, mostly appraisal wells for recent Nanushuk discoveries.

Cook Inlet drilling

In Cook Inlet the impact of COVID-19 on drilling activity is less obvious. A total of 10 development wells were drilled in 2020, with the drilling being spread fairly evenly across the year. In 2019, by comparison, 14 development wells were drilled.

The well count for 2020 reflected at least some impact from the pandemic: BlueCrest Alaska Operating LLC had planned to drill one or two multilateral development wells in 2020 in its Cosmopolitan field in the southern Kenai Peninsula but subsequently cancelled this plan because of COVID-19 and the collapse in the oil market.

And there were significant differences in the patterns of development drilling between 2020 and 2019. In 2020 Hilcorp drilled all of the development wells, and all of the wells were gas wells in various gas fields. In 2020 Hilcorp also completed a gas storage well in the Swanson River field. In 2019, on the other hand, BlueCrest completed eight oil development wells at Cosmopolitan. Hilcorp completed three gas development wells and three oil development wells in various fields.

In terms of appraisal and exploration drilling, Hilcorp completed eight shallow Whiskey Gulch stratigraphic test wells in July 2020 in the southern Kenai Peninsula - Hilcorp had completed four similar Whiskey Gulch test wells in November 2019. In October 2019 the company suspended an appraisal sidetrack well at Trading Bay. No other appraisal or exploratory drilling was conducted in the Cook Inlet region in either year, according to the AOGCC data.

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