Scoping starts for ConocoPhillips’ Willow development

ConocoPhillips’ westward push on the North Slope took reached another milestone Aug. 7 when the Bureau of Land Management began asking for public input as it drafts permitting documents for the company’s proposed multibillion-dollar Willow oil development.

The remote Willow prospect is west of the existing North Slope oil fields in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Largely a Nanushuk formation-focused play, ConocoPhillips announced its discovery in January 2017 after the company drilled two exploration wells the previous winter. Company leaders said during a July 16 investor presentation that appraisal wells drilled last winter indicate Willow likely holds between 750 million to 1.1 billion barrels of oil and pegged development of the isolated resource at $4 billion to $6 billion.

The company has estimated it could produce up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day.

With a shallow conventional target zone in the 4,000-foot range, ConocoPhillips also believes it can produce from Willow for less than $40 per barrel, according to a release accompanying the presentation.

ConocoPhillips’ initial development plan calls for a central processing facility and pad, up to five drilling pads with up to 50 wells each, access roads, an airstrip and a gravel mine within the NPR-A, according to BLM. The proposal also contemplates a temporary island in state waters to facilitate module deliveries via sealift barges.

The company sent BLM a letter in May requesting authorization for the development, a BLM release states.

The federal agency will be drafting an environmental impact statement to evaluate the master development plan for the massive project and as such is asking the public what should be studied in the EIS.

“Analyzing the proposed Willow prospect in a single (master development plan) EIS will result in a quicker and more efficient process for the approval of applications for permits to drill. Public input on this project is important and we look forward to hosting public meetings and listening to the comments people may have,” Acting BLM Alaska Directory Karen Mouritsen said in a prepared statement.

Audubon Alaska issued a statement emphasizing that Willow is near the “globally-important Teshekpuk Lake wetlands complex, one of the most ecologically important habitats in the entire Arctic.”

The 2013 NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan — the land-use plan for the entire 23 million-acre reserve — precludes oil and gas leasing and development in much of the northeast portion of the reserve to protect the area surrounding Teshekpuk Lake and the caribou herd and waterfowl that use it and are important subsistence resources for many North Slope residents.

Audubon Alaska also notes the master development plan EIS is subject to an Interior Department directive issued by Trump administration officials to limit the review to one year and the EIS to 150 pages.

“We urge the agency to go slow, think carefully, and adhere to the Integrated Activity Plan,” Audubon Alaska Policy Directory Susan Culliney said. “Using a hastened (National Environmental Policy Act) timeline for this massive development project will only gloss over the science and lead to a faulty decision. The complex and sensitive Arctic ecosystem deserves more consideration than can possibly be achieved through a quick and dirty fast-tracked analysis.”

Public scoping meetings will be held in the North Slope communities of Anaktuvuk Pass, Atqasuk, Nuiqsut and Utqiagvik as well as Fairbanks and Anchorage, but meeting times have not been announced.

ConocoPhillips is expected to bring its roughly $1 billion Greater Mooses Tooth-1 project in the reserve online this fall. When it does, it will be the first oil production from the NPR-A with an expected peak rate of 30,000 barrels per day. Its Greater Mooses Tooth-2 project is now in permitting and is also projected at 30,000 barrels per day at peak rate.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
08/08/2018 - 10:55am

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