Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
December 2019

Vol. 24, No.48 Week of December 01, 2019

ERD rig being reassembled

ConocoPhillips looks to set new drilling records with new North Slope rig

Kay Cashman

Petroleum News

The Doyon 26 extended reach drilling rig, the largest mobile land rig in North America, is being reassembled in Deadhorse for use on the North Slope by ConocoPhillips, which commissioned it with Doyon Drilling in October 2016.

In its 2019 plan of development, ConocoPhillips said it plans to drill six wells at its Fiord West field with the new ERD rig starting early in second quarter 2020. Fiord West is expected to produce 20,000 barrels of oil per day gross at its peak.

Originally assembled in Nisku, Alberta, the rig was broken down into 267 separate tractor-trailer loads that began their 2,400 mile journey to Deadhorse in July.

“It’s been arriving in loads the entire fall and the team is beginning the reassembly process,” ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman told Petroleum News Nov. 22.

“When all the pieces arrive, we’ll put it back together like a big Lego to make seven rig modules,” Paul McGrath, the ERD project director, was quoted as saying in July.

“COP Alaska has been working on the rig from initial FEED (front end engineering design) studies and concept stage for about four years. During construction we had assistance from our colleagues in … ConocoPhillips Canada. The team recognizes what a game changer this will be for ConocoPhillips in Alaska,” McGrath said.

The 9.5 million pound Doyon 26 ERD rig - weight equivalent to almost 10 fully loaded Boeing 747s and 1.5 to 2 times more powerful than other North Slope rigs - is expected to increase oil production by accessing previously unreachable resources without expanding the surface footprint.

Next, in March it will be shipped to CD2 pad, enabling the development of Fiord West, an oil field discovered by ConocoPhillips in 1996 northwest of the main Alpine field, west of the central North Slope. Fiord West is in the Colville River unit.

Scott Jepsen, vice president external affairs and transportation ConocoPhillips Alaska, said in July that Fiord West development was problematic because the area is along the coast in wetlands. The CD2 pad has been extended to 12 acres with a little more gravel to accommodate the ERD rig and development.

Other drilling rigs do not have the capability to access Fiord West without building a new gravel pad, additional pipelines and more roads - hence increasing the development footprint in an environmentally sensitive area. Doyon 26 does.

Extended reach technology enables the more powerful rig to drill targets some 7 miles from the surface location, whereas other rigs are designed to drill about 22,000 feet from a pad. This means from the CD2 pad the high-tech ERD rig will be able to develop 154 square miles of reservoir versus the standard 55 square miles.

New drilling records ahead

At ConocoPhillips’ Nov. 19 analyst and investor meeting in Houston, Michael Hatfield, president, Alaska, Canada and Europe, took what he described as a deeper look the company’s drilling in Alaska, which he said has been “one of the key enablers” of the company’s performance and success in the state.

“We have an exceptional track record in the last few years of drilling challenging wells to deliver resources that would be inaccessible by traditional methods. At CD5 in the Western North Slope, we drilled the 10 longest wells in Alaska - you can see several of the records on this graph (see in pdf and print versions of this article).

“The longest well is over 32,000 feet, the longest lateral ever drilled in North America is nearly 22,000 feet and we were able to reach our normal appraisal targets from an existing pad at a relatively shallow depth of a high sale angle of 83 degrees in a horizontal distance of over three miles,” he said, noting the new Doyon 26 rig will set even greater records.

The ERD rig combines the latest drilling technologies, including “manage pressure drilling and the latest in rig automation. It incorporates a reflective drilling system that can automate repetitive tasks and improve performance significantly. These technologies will enable us to manage the challenges of drilling even longer and more complex wells to access additional resources,” Hatfield said.

Over the next 10 years, “we expect the ERD rig will access 100 million barrels at a constant supply of $25 a barrel. Our track record of execution has allowed us to economically develop these areas and will be key to continuing to unlock value in Alaska,” he said.

Six wells in 2020

The six wells at Fiord West will be drilled into the 12,015-acre Fiord West Kuparuk participating area, which was approved May 30. The PA is jointly managed by the state of Alaska, Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and includes state and joint state-ASRC and BLM leases.

The Fiord West Kuparuk PA is about a mile west of the Fiord Nechelik PA - an area with seven exploration wells, six of which encountered the Lower Cretaceous Kuparuk River formation.

Using a standard rig, ConocoPhillips drilled one well in the new Fiord West Kuparuk PA with production from that well already online.

Two ConocoPhillips biz units

A drill rig often needs to be moved hundreds of miles in a single winter exploration and appraisal off-road season and not all rigs are self-propelled, making mobility a key factor for the North Slope.

“We asked Doyon to make this large rig as mobile as typical North Slope rigs,” Chip Alvord, drilling manager in Alaska, said in July. “That’s quite a challenge given the size of the rig, but Doyon’s design met that challenge.” The rig moves as fast as the other rigs and it’s also self-propelled. “The rig’s mobility will allow it to get online and drill a well more quickly,” he said.

“There are no facilities for constructing drilling rigs in Alaska, so most Arctic rigs are built in Washington state on the U.S. West Coast or in the Edmonton area,” McGrath said. Doyon subcontracted with NOV, a Nisku company recognized as a foremost designer and fabricator of Arctic drilling rigs.

For two years, on two-week rotations, two rig supervisors from ConocoPhillips Alaska joined the team in Canada.

“For CPC (ConocoPhillips Canada) throughout the construction of the rig, the business unit has had the opportunity to learn from COP Alaska and vice versa,” an article published on Doyon Drilling’s website said.

On April 23, representatives from both business units met in Nisku to take a final look at the completed ERD rig, which internally is referred to as “the beast” (see slide in pdf and print versions of this story).

The anticipated “first drill” date for the new rig is April 2020, Doyon said, noting the new ERD rig would generate 100 direct jobs and “hundreds of indirect positions” to support rig operations.

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