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ConocoPhillips Alaska’s Extended Reach Helps Shrink Its Carbon Footprint

Sep 12, 2022Magazine, Oil & Gas

ConocoPhillips Alaska

ConocoPhillips set some major milestones in 2022, producing its first oil from the Fiord West Kuparuk reservoir and setting a new drilling record from a land-based rig. The company’s optimization of new technologies and commitment to sustainable development has enabled it to reduce its footprint in the environment by extending drilling from fewer well pads, providing increased revenue and employment opportunities in the state.

The company has even bigger plans, including continued investment in Alaska and a goal of achieving net zero on its operational emissions by 2050. But there are challenges as well, according to Erec Isaacson, president of ConocoPhillips Alaska.

“As you look at development in the Arctic, the key thing to remember is that it’s not easy,” he says. “With the regulatory environment we have and experiences that we’ve had, we’ve proven that we have the right talent and creativity in the company to achieve our goals. Our many years of history operating responsibly in Alaska reflect our focus to ensure regulatory and environmental concerns are mitigated.”

Success Stories

On May 18, 2022, the Fiord West Kuparuk reservoir produced its first oil. “The project used extended reach drilling technology [ERD], the first of this type in Alaska, which will continue to play a vital role in developing Alaska’s resources with minimal environmental impact. The team was able to overcome the challenges of implementing a new technology, landed the well, and got it on production,” says Isaacson.

Fiord West Kuparuk is a satellite of the Alpine field that is being developed from the existing CD2 pad in the Colville River Unit and is currently producing approximately 11,000 barrels of oil per day.

For areas with existing gravel roads, ERD technology eliminates the need for new gravel pads, additional pipelines, or more roads and enables companies to access 60 percent more acreage from a single pad. Using the Doyon 26 rig, ConocoPhillips set a North American land drilling record of 35,526 feet from the CD2 pad.

The injection well is being pre-produced for approximately six months prior to being converted to permanent injection service when the company is ready to drill the next well.

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October 2022

Having seen the success of ERD technology, ConocoPhillips plans to review other opportunities where the innovative drilling method can be used. “When we look at all of the other opportunities we have up there on the western North Slope, there are other reservoirs that could benefit from ERD,” Isaacson says, suggesting that this could include drilling more wells on the Fiord West Kuparuk field.

“ERD will allow us to maximize the potential of existing pads and to reach areas that we otherwise could not get to because they are environmentally sensitive environments or are economically challenging,” he explains. “We’ll be looking at these subsurface opportunities, at the cost, and how long they will take to drill, as well as evaluating the economics of other opportunities in the company’s global portfolio to determine how many of these projects will be considered for future drilling.

“When you look at the North Slope, we have a history of continually optimizing how we develop from a sustainability standpoint and from a cost perspective with each new set of wells, pads, and fields,” says Isaacson. “ERD is another tool that will allow us to do that.

“Our goal is to operate sustainably, reduce environmental impacts, and minimize the footprint of our well sites and production facilities,” he adds, noting the continuous improved footprint design on the western North Slope, Kuparuk, and Greater Mooses Tooth projects.

Exploring New Technologies

Man holding the first oil produced by the Fiord Kuparuk reservior

On May 18, 2022, the Fiord West Kuparuk reservoir produced its first oil.

ConocoPhillips Alaska

ConocoPhillips is constantly implementing new technologies for operations, according to Isaacson, as well as for drilling and developing new wells.

“This runs across the whole spectrum: from logistics, where we use the latest technology to manage how to move things around and store them more efficiently, to data analytics to analyze the performance of our subsurface operations and fine tune them,” he says. “We use integrated planning technology to improve our procedures and operations on the North Slope.”

Isaacson points to the Willow project, where the company has had the opportunity to design from scratch, integrating the innovations and technology developed over many years of working on the North Slope.

“When we begin building roads and pads over there, we expect that we will be able to reduce road height by 25 percent through use of insulation, which means less gravel moved, lower road heights, and fewer impacts. This has the potential to reduce disturbance with caribou movements and subsistence activities,” he says.

“We’re also using different technologies with our contractors in the way that we mine gravel there,” Isaacson adds. “We are using continuous mining methods with reduced blasting which more efficiently extracts and moves gravel with fewer noise impacts.”

The company is also implementing 4D seismic technology at Willow to monitor the efficiency of its fields, create more intelligent wells, and control and maximize reservoir performance.

Behind the scenes, the company is creating digital twins of all of Willow’s facilities, which will allow the company to set up and visualize systems before performing turnaround or maintenance work in the field.

Another innovation is the Willow project’s power supply, using high efficiency turbines and waste heat recovery.

“When Willow comes online, its greenhouse gas emission intensity is expected to be among the lowest reported for North American and OPEC countries, based on recent oil production data, making it very sustainable and efficient,” says Isaacson.

“When we begin building roads and pads [at Willow], we expect that we will be able to reduce road height by 25 percent through use of insulation, which means less gravel moved, lower road heights, and fewer impacts. This has the potential to reduce disturbance with caribou movements and subsistence activities.”

—Erec Isaacson, President, ConocoPhillips Alaska

Continuing Development

ConocoPhillips Oil site

For areas with existing gravel roads, extended reach drilling technology eliminates the need for new gravel pads, additional pipelines, or more roads and enables companies to access 60 percent more acreage from a single pad.

ConocoPhillips Alaska

Greater Mooses Tooth Unit #2 (GMT2) produced its first oil at the end of 2021, and the company is still actively developing that project. After roughly ten months of drilling, ConocoPhillips has completed the ninth well of a thirty-six-well program and expects to continue to drill at the site for approximately two more years. GMT2 is expected to produce 30,000 barrels per day at its peak production.

Since 2000, ConocoPhillips has drilled fifty-eight exploration wells in the area, including twenty-eight within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

“We still see significant oil and exploration opportunities within our areas of existing infrastructure, as well as exploration opportunities nearby,” says Isaacson. For instance, this season the company will drill exploration wells on state land south and slightly west of Kuparuk in an area called Bear.

“In the short term, depending on how [Bear] goes and Willow goes, we’ll see what else we want to do from an exploration standpoint,” he continues. “We have a good inventory of exploration projects and a nice inventory of development projects as well.”

Over the coming decade, ConocoPhillips plans to advance development opportunities in the Alpine field Colville River Unit, as well as the Kuparuk Unit to the east and the Prudhoe Bay Unit.

In Kuparuk, the company is planning to move forward on several projects, including Nuna, Coyote, and Narwhal, as well as plans to continue to develop viscous production and undertake additional West Sak development.

“We are focusing on well work to keep our existing fields healthy and online in Kuparuk,” Isaacson says. “There are lots of little things happening around our existing assets, which are impressive in themselves. They don’t get as much fanfare as Willow but end up being just as important for our future.”

On July 15, 2022, the federal Bureau of Land Management released a draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the Willow project, which opened a 45-day comment period. Following that, the supplemental environmental survey can be finalized.

“We anticipate receiving authorization from the BLM to proceed with the project by the end of the year and are planning to begin construction on the project this winter season.”

“We still see significant oil and exploration opportunities within our areas of existing infrastructure, as well as exploration opportunities nearby.”

—Erec Isaacson, President, ConocoPhillips Alaska

Future Plans

ConocoPhillips worker at the oil rig

With the Doyon 26 rig, ConocoPhillips set a North American land drilling record of 35,526 feet from an existing CD2 pad.

ConocoPhillips Alaska

With so many projects going on in the state, it’s no surprise that ConocoPhillips plans to continue to invest in Alaska.

“We see Alaska as an important part of our diversified global portfolio that includes long-cycle investments,” says Isaacson. “By the time we go through permitting and studies, it can take a decade or more to get to production. We have short-cycle investments elsewhere, and long-cycle investments help add balance.”

From a corporate standpoint, ConocoPhillips has a long-term commitment to emissions reduction and has adopted the Paris-aligned climate risk framework with the ambition to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050.

“This goes hand-in-hand with the way we work in Alaska, using decades of science-informed monitoring and engineering to make sure we do things sustainably while addressing stakeholder concerns,” says Isaacson. “We take a lot of pride in the longtime relationships we have with residents of the North Slope and the local contractors in Alaska who we work with day in day out.

“We are really proud of the achievements that our workforce has made in innovation, technology, and creating an atmosphere that is inclusive, diverse, and where everyone feels like they are contributing something when they come into the office,” he adds. “And we will continue to actively recruit Alaskans for positions, as the majority of our workforce calls Alaska home.”

“We still see significant oil and exploration opportunities within our areas of existing infrastructure, as well as exploration opportunities nearby.”

—Erec Isaacson, President, ConocoPhillips Alaska

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