ConocoPhillips gets good news on second NPR-A project

  • Signs are seen guiding the way over ice roads to ConocoPhillips projects in the in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on the North Slope. The company is nearing production from one project in the NPR-A and got good news from regulators on another project just a few miles away on March 22. (Photo/Courtesy/ConocoPhillips)

ConocoPhillips received good news March 22 when the Bureau of Land Management announced it had finished a long-awaited draft of the environmental impact statement for one of the company’s oil developments in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Publication of the draft supplemental EIS for the Greater Mooses Tooth-2 project means ConocoPhillips could sanction the roughly $1 billion development later this year if BLM issues the company a favorable record of decision, according to ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman.

Lowman wrote in an email that the permitting process for GMT-2 has taken significantly longer than expected, which pushed the startup timeframe the company’s had pegged from late 2020 to the fourth quarter of 2021.

“We believe that permitting is now proceeding on a reasonable schedule,” Lowman wrote.

That would also have the company starting construction next winter, just after production is supposed to commence from nearby Greater Mooses Tooth-1.

The very similar “GMT” oil projects are just inside the eastern boundary of the NPR-A. Each is expected to produce up to about 30,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak with a cost of nearly $1 billion to get there.

GMT-2 would be an eight-mile step out from GMT-1 and the two would be connected via gravel road. GMT-1 will be the first producing oil and gas project on federal lands in the NPR-A.

ConocoPhillips’ CD-5 oil development, which started producing in 2015 and since has exceeded expectations, is located on Kuukpik Corp. land within the reserve boundary. Kuukpik is the Native village corporation for Nuiqsut, the closest community to the project.

ConocoPhillips submitted its proposal to develop GMT-2 to the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that oversees the NPR-A, in August 2015. However, BLM did not publish a notice of intent in the Federal Register to officially restart the environmental impact statement, or EIS, for the project until 11 months later in July 2016.

In January 2017 a BLM Alaska spokeswoman said the agency was anticipating a record of decision on the project between January and May of this year, which now will be pushed back. Release of the draft EIS triggers a 45-day public comment period.

Residents of the Nuiqsut were concerned about the potential impacts GMT-2 could have on their subsistence activities, according to BLM, and the agency took time to address those concerns.

Deputy Interior Secretary Dave Bernhardt said while in Anchorage March 8 that he had directed all Interior agency officials to have environmental impact statements done within a year whenever possible.

Additionally, secretarial orders from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed BLM to rescind its climate change policy established in 2012 and other development impact mitigation policies set in 2015 and 2016, according to the EIS.

In May 2017 Zinke directed BLM to begin the lengthy process of revising its land management plan for the NPR-A with an eye on further oil development.

The supplemental EIS for GMT-2 that BLM is working on now is a follow-up from one done in 2004 when the project was first proposed as a satellite to the company’s large Alpine field on state acreage just to the east of the NPR-A.

The footprint of Conoco’s updated plan for GMT-2 is larger than what it got approval for in 2004, with an oil pipeline paralleling an 8.2-mile access road and a 14-acre drill pad capable of holding up to 48 wells, according to the proposal submitted to BLM.

The agency has selected the company’s plan as its preferred alternative, but other alternatives include an option with a longer road of 9.3 miles and one with a 47-acre airstrip in-lieu of a road.

The alternative with the longer road would have the road and pipeline follow the high ground between the Fish Creek and Tinmiaqsiugvik River drainages on the prospect it would keep traffic and oil further away from the water bodies and hopefully reduce the impacts of a major spill if one were to occur.

The 5,000-foot airstrip option would eliminate the gravel road but allow for winter ice roads, likely limiting the movement of drill rigs and other equipment to and from the site.

With no year-round surface connection, the third alternative would also require a larger 19-acre gravel drill pad to and an 18-acre camp pad to accommodate workers unable to leave each day.

The oil pipeline would follow the company’s desired route.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

03/28/2018 - 11:32am