ConocoPhillips strikes oil in six exploration wells

  • ConocoPhillips went a perfect 6-for-6 in exploration drilling this winter. (Photo/Mark Thiessen/AP)

The winter North Slope exploration season went so smoothly for ConocoPhillips the company was able to drill an extra well while hitting oil everywhere it tried, according to a statement issued April 16. 

Last fall ConocoPhillips announced it would be drilling five greenfield wells over the winter, which would make 2017-18 the company’s busiest exploration season in 15 years. However, “improved drilling efficiencies” allowed ConocoPhillips to drill a sixth well to further appraise its Willow oil discovery announced in January 2017, the company release states. 

The three Willow appraisal wells largely confirm the initial estimate that the prospect in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska holds at least 300 million barrels of recoverable oil. 

ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman said the early results from the wells, which are still being evaluated, indicate Willow could produce oil at rates on the high end of the company’s estimates as well. 

“I think the results of the well tests we did support that Willow could produce up to 100,000 barrels per day. That’s what this season was good for, that kind of confirmation,” Lowman said. 

That level of production likely necessitates a larger development by ConocoPhillips. 

“I think we’re probably leaning towards a standalone (processing) facility as opposed to a tieback and that’s what we’re going to continue to work on in the coming year,” Lowman added. 

ConocoPhillips Alaska leaders had previously couched production estimates for Willow on the grounds that it would need its own production facilities to approach the 100,000 barrels per day estimate and if the reservoir could not support that investment over the long-term Willow would likely be developed to produce at a much lower rate. 

Under that scenario, the oil from Willow would be processed through existing facilities at the company’s other large oil fields, such as the Alpine field just to the east of Willow. 

ConocoPhillips continues to peg 2023 for first oil from the prospect, according to Lowman. 

Test results from the other exploration wells — Putu and Stony Hill — drilled to the southeast of Willow aren’t available yet, but Lowman said the company is planning to turn those prospects into tieback developments in which produced oil is fed via pipeline to other processing facilities on the Slope. 

If developed, that would put production from Putu and Stony Hill in the 20,000 barrels per day range based on very general company estimates. 

All of the wells targeted the shallow Nanushuk oil formation popularized on the western portion of the industry’s North Slope reach by the billion-barrel-plus Pikka discovery made by the Repsol-Armstrong Energy partnership in 2015. 

ConocoPhillips drilled the Putu well and sidetrack this winter after deferring the work during the 2016-17 season due to concerns brought by residents of the nearby Native village of Nuiqsut as to how the exploration drilling might impact life in the village. 

Deferring the Putu drilling sparked a contentious situation between the company and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack, who in late 2016 transferred the acreage to ConocoPhillips from former leaseholder Brooks Range Petroleum Corp. on the understanding the well would be drilled that winter. 

Mack eventually agreed to allow ConocoPhillips to keep the leases conditioned on the company drilling the well in 2018 and then making a $3 million payment by Aug. 15 to DNR in-lieu of the cash the state could expect if the sought-after acreage were put back up for bid in a state lease sale. 

Lowman said it’s too early to know if the company plans to make that payment and continue to hold the Putu-area leases. 

Drilling records 

On April 10 ConocoPhillips announced that with the help of Doyon Drilling’s Rig 19 it has set a North American record for the longest horizontal lateral well at its CD-5 oil development in the NPR-A. 

The CD-5-25 well was drilled to a depth of about 7,900 feet but the record-setting lateral offshoot went another 21,748 feet into the Alpine A sand formation, according to the company. When combined with an Alpine C sand lateral, the CD-5-25 well reached a total drilling length of 42,993 feet from a single wellhead, which is an Alaska record as well. 

“Improved technology like extended reach drilling and multi-lateral wells allow for ConocoPhillips to maximize production while minimizing our environmental footprint,” Alaska drilling manager Shon Robinson said in a company release. “CD-5-25 will produce from over four miles of reservoir in the long lateral and from over 6 miles of reservoir when both laterals are included. Innovation and teamwork were a huge part of safely drilling this well.” 

Originally projected to produce 16,000 barrels per day from 15 wells when it came online in October 2015, the CD5 development has out-produced expectations nearly from the outset, which has led the company to add more wells to the development. 

CD-5 is averaging about 37,000 barrels per day this year, according to ConocoPhillips, and another round of new wells is planned for 2019, which will bring the total number of wells at the project to 33. 

The company also plans to start producing oil from its Greater Mooses Tooth-1 project late this year, with a projected peak rate of 30,000 barrels per day. 

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]


04/18/2018 - 4:46pm