Technically savvy ExxonMobil struggles to keep high pressure field online
The Point Thomson project, operated by ExxonMobil, was designed to produce 200 million cubic feet of recycled gas and 10,000 barrels of condensate a day. ExxonMobil continues to face technical challenges in the high-pressure sands of the eastern North Slope field. The company is determined to conquer those challenges - good news for all eastern North Slope prospect owners that someday hope to use Point Thomson’s pipeline to carry their oil to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline at Pump Station No. 1.
Point Thomson output over the last six months has ranged from approximately 5,200 barrels per day of condensate to 9,100 bpd, with days online varying from a low of nine in June to a high of 31 in May. Over the six months, the field has been online an average of 22 days a month.
Currently, the facility is “safely shut down … to conduct maintenance,” Hans Neidig, Exxon’s public and government affairs manager for Alaska, told Petroleum News. “The advanced equipment at the facility requires rigorous inspection and maintenance protocols to ensure safe operation.”
The company and its contractors “are working diligently to complete the maintenance and resume production as soon as possible. Our highest priority is the safety of our workers and the environment,” Neidig said. “Production will only resume when it is safe to do so. We cannot speculate on exact timing.”
Because of “the equipment’s unique nature, more time is needed to replace some components compared with standard, off-the-shelf equipment,” he said.
Neidig was likely referring to the two industry-first compressors that are key in producing condensate and recycling gas in the field.
In a Point Thomson plan of development submitted to the state a little over a year ago, Exxon said, “production to date has been impacted by gas injection compressor availability and reliability,” referring to the compressors as “industry-first,” which likely explains Petroleum News sources saying the compressor serial numbers were 001 and 002.
Pressure in the field is nothing to scoff at. Development of the Point Thomson field requires handling reservoir pressures upwards of 10,000 pounds per square inch, a pressure corresponding to “the effect of an elephant standing on the end of someone’s thumb,” former production manager Cory Quarles said in mid-May 2016.
The reservoir pressure is the “highest in ExxonMobil’s global portfolio, and probably the highest of any producing field in the world,” Quarles said.
The 10,000 psi is still used by the company in 2018.
A state official who asked not to be identified told Petroleum News July 31: “Point Thomson would be tough for any other major to deal with, but Exxon keeps whittling away at the problem. We’re fortunate they’re operating that field. I doubt it would ever have been developed otherwise,” he said, citing “Exxon’s deep pockets and technical savvy.”
The latest Point Thomson production manager is Darlene Gates, who was brought on from Imperial Oil a few months ago - likely because of her technical expertise and success at Imperial’s mega-oil project in northeastern Alberta.
Exxon holds a 69.6 percent interest in Imperial.
Note: Mug shot of Darlene Gates was taken from a larger photo of Gates and Lakeland Catholic School District Superintendent Joe Arruda from whom she accepted an award on behalf of Imperial, a reflection on her involvement in district educational programs of Cold Lake, Alberta.
See full story and sidebar in the April 18 edition of Petroleum News.