Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
March 2024

Vol. 29, No.13 Week of March 31, 2024

Willow's on the way

ConocoPhillips seeing banner season on the Slope, from east to west

Steve Sutherlin

Petroleum News

ConocoPhillips Alaska is in full swing with construction for its Willow project on the North Slope in the National Petroleum Reserve, which is estimated to produce 180,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak.

"At ConocoPhillips we're incredibly busy with drilling in major projects all across the Slope from Kuparuk all the way out to Willow," Connor Dunn, vice president, Willow, said in a presentation to the Alaska Support Industry Alliance at its Meet Alaska event in Anchorage March 22.

In addition to Willow, the company is proceeding with development of satellites in Kuparuk and continued exploration in the western North Slope area, Dunn said, adding that in a few years he expects to see some 2 billion to 3 billion barrels or more of development arise from these efforts.

"In all, ConocoPhillips has drilled nearly 68 exploration wells since the year 2000, including 28 in the NPR-A, and that's generated significant exploration and development opportunities," he said.

"Willow gets a lot of the fanfare," he said. "There's over $7 billion to first oil in 2029 but there's actually just as much if not more activity in the next decade across our base business, so while Willow has been big in public and required a lot of focus there's just as much activity across the park in Prudhoe and elsewhere on the Slope; it's a really exciting decade ahead for industry in this stable fiscal environment."

At Prudhoe Bay, ongoing development drilling in in progress by field operator Hilcorp.

Willow -- located about 30 miles as the crow flies west of the Alpine fields -- is abuzz with gravel road and pipeline installation as well as construction of the Willow operations center in the first phase of the project, Dunn said.

There are 12 modules currently under fabrication for the Willow operations center, representing some 3,000 tons of equipment ahead of building the project's central facility, he said. Module transportation will commence in the second quarter of 2024.

The operations center will include a 500-person camp, clinic, water and wastewater facilities, workshop, and air strip. It will also house drilling infrastructure such as rig camps, shops, mud and proppant storage, and a cement plant.

Willow will feature a new 180,000 bpd processing facility and associated drill sites within the Beartooth unit and the NPR-A, Dunn said, adding that there will be three drill sites connected via field flow lines with about 30 to 70 wells per pad depending on the pad.

A new sales oil pipeline that will tie into the export side of the current Alpine pipeline and a water line will bring water from Kuparuk to support enhanced oil recovery and "standard development methodology on the Slope," he said.

"We have a new mine site that we're developing specifically for Willow," Dunn said.

"One of the first things someone told me when I got to Alaska is the two most important things are seawater and gravel," he said. "Coming from the North Sea that was not what I was expecting to hear, but you know developing new gravel resources has been incredibly important, and a big part of the Willow project success has been locating and securing additional gravel."

The 500-person operations center will be located a mile away from the Willow central facility.

Modules will travel over a 90-mile transportation road from Oliktok Dock on self-propelled modular trailers at a snail speed, Dunn said.

"I apologize in advance for everybody that's gonna be stuck behind that one," Dunn said. "That is literally gonna be slower than the slowest move you can remember but it's just really gonna be a huge technological feat to bring those modules out to the Willow location -- so we're excited."

The company has 150 people now with SAExploration working in the Willow area acquiring high quality seismic for planning and development drilling, he said.

Kuparuk still an activity hub

After some 40 years of operations, the Kuparuk River unit is still expanding, and producing.

"I know that having been there a couple of weeks ago they're at 97% bed space capacity, which has been a long time since Kuparuk has operated at that level," Dunn said. "There's two rotary rigs working in the field, two workover rigs and two projects being progressed to satellite developments within Kuparuk."

"We took the final investment decision on Nuna last year and that development is ongoing," Dunn said.

Nuna drilling is scheduled to start in late 2024. First oil is anticipated by early 2025, with an expected peak oil rate of some 20,000 barrels per day, per CPAI.

"We're also doing continued development drilling at Coyote which is also a Brookian topset development," Dunn said.

"In the northeast the fields are spread out, in Kuparuk we're doing viscous development with drill site 1H phase two drilling and the learnings of this will just feed into the next wave of viscous development, with eastern NEWS planned later in the decade within the Kuparuk River unit," he said. "So exciting time in the park -- activity across geological horizons and across geographical horizons within the field and after 40 years still continued running room and satellite development."

Western North Slope activity

The western North Slope is seeing continued development with the Doyon 26 extended reach drilling rig operating in the area and ongoing exploration activity, Dunn said.

"This is really the busiest season we've had at WNS in recent memory -- stats are really significant -- we've built this season alone 50 miles of ice road and 250 acres of ice pads," he said. "Now we're installing over 7 miles of gravel road, 60 acres of gravel for pads, 8 miles of pipelines, and over 1,700 vertical support members for the new pipelines that will be installed -- so just a huge level of construction activity ongoing and the Slope really as we speak."

Dunn said that in addition to the busy season, the company is still doing the routine -- operating safely and doing annual turnarounds across assets which are critically important to maintaining a reliable operation on the Slope.

"It amazes me every time I'm on the Slope just how we have the capability and expertise to operate in this really challenging environment; we have had a rough start to the season with a combination of some challenging weather however we are getting our key work done with the support of our contractors and industry support," he said. "We have a good number of weeks left in the season and we look forward to getting our critical work done."

Dunn said there are many new people coming to the Slope.

"People are coming to work on the Slope for the first time, so a lot of pride in that but it also presents an opportunity for us in the industry really to bring those people up to meet the standards and the values we have and at ConocoPhillips one of those values for us has been and remains our spirit values... safety of people ... I think that fits with what we're seeing this winter in terms of the focus on really bringing people on board with the culture that we have established in the North Slope and in Alaska."

Dunn said that on the safety journey the industry has evolved significantly over the decades.

"I think what's really important to us at this point in time is that we focus on those high consequence events, those events where serious injuries or even fatalities or loss of containment can occur, so that's our primary focus," he said. "We can do this ... we can operate safely; we can do it in a responsible way in an arctic environment -- and we really do -- and I feel proud to say that sets the standard for the rest of the world when it comes to development."

ConocoPhillips has acreage interest from the east side of Prudhoe Bay all the way out into the National Petroleum Reserve, spanning more than 100 geographical miles -- a staggering development across from east to west, Dunn said. The company is one of the largest landholders and leaseholders across the state of Alaska including in the National Petroleum Reserve.

"We are actively working to develop and explore across all of them as an industry," he said. "One thing that makes me incredibly proud is the technological advancements we've seen as we've progressed from east to west over the decades and just how we minimize their footprint and really improved the quality of our projects over the decades."

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