Draft report on Willow released; 130k b/d possible
Alaskans got a sense of what developing one of the state’s largest oil prospects in decades would look like Aug. 23 when the federal Bureau of Land Management released the draft environmental impact statement for ConocoPhillips’ Willow project.
The $4 billion to $6 billion proposed oil field is expected to produce up to 130,000 barrels per day at its peak if it is developed as currently envisioned. Willow is expected to cumulatively produce upwards of 590 million barrels of oil over approximately 30 years.
It would also be another major step into the mostly undeveloped National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska where ConocoPhillips has been exploring for years.
Last October, oil started flowing from the company’s smaller Greater Mooses Tooth-1 project, which marked the first oil production from federal leases within the NPR-A. ConocoPhillips is also in the midst of constructing the $1 billion-plus Greater Mooses Tooth-2 oil project to the east of the Willow development area.
All of the aforementioned projects are in the northeastern portion of the NPR-A.
ConocoPhillips announced the discovery of the primarily Nanushuk oil formation-sourced Willow prospect in January 2017 and has subsequently drilled multiple appraisal wells in the area.
If developed, Willow would be the westernmost oilfield on the North Slope and would be linked to existing infrastructure via a road to GMT-2 based on ConocoPhillips’ current plan.
In totality, ConocoPhillips hopes to build 38 miles of new gravel roads to connect five drill sites and a processing facility within the project to GMT-2. Each drill site is designed to accommodate at least 50 production and injection wells.
Willow would also have a large operations center with an airstrip for a total gravel footprint of 442 acres, according to the draft EIS.
Additionally, the company is proposing to build a temporary gravel island at Atigaru Point in near shore state waters of the Beaufort Sea north of the project for offloading and storing modules. The facility segments would be barged up in summer months and transported via ice roads to the project area in winter, according to the EIS.
The 12.8-acre gravel island would be stripped of all manmade materials after several years of use.
“It is anticipated the top of the island would drop below the water surface in 10 to 20 years following abandonment as it is reshaped by ice and waves,” the document states.
The Atigaru Point island would be the shortest delivery route without needing to dredge marine waters or have additional impacts to the marine environment, according to BLM officials. The island would require 117 miles of ice roads to build and use.
The agency selected the company’s plan as its preferred alternative, but BLM Alaska spokeswoman Lesli Ellis-Wouters noted that identifying a preferred plan in the draft stage of the environmental review does not preclude BLM from changing course based on comments it receives on the draft document.
If BLM ultimately selects the ConocoPhillips development plan, first oil is expected in late 2024. Development without a field access road would push first oil to early 2026, according to the EIS.
The company expects full development to take between seven and nine years.
Two other development options considered in the EIS would cut out several infield roads to reduce potential impacts to caribou movements and lessen the number of stream crossings, but those changes would require another airstrip and ultimately lead to slightly more gravel fill.
A transfer island farther north and west at Point Lonely is also considered to utilize existing Department of Defense infrastructure there and move the island away from areas frequently used by residents of the nearby village of Nuiqsut for subsistence harvests.
Utilizing the Point Lonely site for offloading barges would mean building nearly 230 miles of ice roads for developing the facility and transporting equipment. Developing either island would require crossing part of the Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Habitat Area identified in the 2013 NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan with ice roads.
BLM Alaska officials are in the midst of developing a new land-use plan for the NPR-A. Department of Interior leaders have said it will likely have more areas available to oil and gas leasing and possibly smaller areas with special wildlife habitat protections, particularly in the northeastern part of the reserve, which is believed to have more potential for oil and gas finds.
Public comment meetings are planned for the northern Alaska communities of Anaktuvuk Pass, Atqasuk, Nuiqsut and Utqiagvik, as well as Anchorage and Fairbanks in mid and late September.
Public comments on the Willow draft EIS can be submitted to BLM through Oct. 15.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].