ConocoPhillips brings new North Slope oil with its Fiord West project now on-line

Doyon Drilling drill rig on North Slope exploration well. Judy Patrick photo courtesy ConocoPhillips.

ConocoPhillips is ramping up production at its newest North Slope project, Fiord West, in the Alpine field. A company official said that an initial horizontal production well reached 10,000 barrels per day on Monday, May 23. Plans are to bump up the output to 20,000 barrels per day through 2022.

The initial well set a North American record for horizontal drilling with a total measured depth of 35,526 feet, which means the location of the drill rig on an established production pad in the field was almost seven miles from the reservoir being tapped.

Fiord West has been long known in the Alpine field but was undeveloped because it was isolated from the existing field pipeline and road infrastructure by a channel of the Colville River.

Building bridges would have raised capital costs and made development uneconomic. ConocoPhillips chose to drill the deposit with long horizontal wells from existing surface facilities, in this case, the nearby CD2 production pad.

The one well drilled so far is being used for initial production and will be converted to an injector well for reservoir pressure maintenance as other wells are drilled, ConocoPhillips spokesperson Rebecca Boys said.

“This project opens a new era we call ‘growth without gravel’ where we can use extended-reach technology to access 60-percent more acreage from a single pad, dramatically reducing our footprint and enabling us to safely produce from environmentally sensitive areas,” said Erec Isaacson, president of ConocoPhillips’ Alaska subsidiary.

Doyon 26, the largest mobile land rig in North America, is a technologically advanced rig capable of drilling in excess of 40,000 feet, which substantially extends the lateral “reach” from a single pad. As a result, the rig will be able to develop 154 square miles of the reservoir from a 14-acre drilling pad, compared with 55 square miles with wells drilled laterally with conventional drill rigs. The rig is owned by Doyon Drilling Co., a subsidiary of Doyon, Ltd., based in Fairbanks, Alaska, owned by Indigenous Alaska Natives.

While the Fiord West well set a new record, several other record-breaking horizontal wells have been drilled on the North Slope, most of them at CD 5, another drill site in the Alpine field also operated by ConocoPhillips. Doyon also drilled those wells.

Conoco Phillips also drilled horizontal production wells to tap Narwhal, another reservoir south of the Alpine field. The company said a production pad would eventually be built at Narwhal because parts of the reservoir cannot be drained efficiently with horizontal wells.

While companies have long drilled production wells horizontally on the North Slope, the process doesn’t always go smoothly. The new Fiord West well, for example, experienced technical difficulties and was late being completed.

Eni Oil and Gas, which operates the small offshore Nikaitchuq field north of the Alpine and Kuparuk River fields is drilling a long, extended-reach exploration well to test prospects further offshore but has suffered delays in drilling the well due to geologic conditions.

BP also attempted to develop the offshore xxx field, five miles north of the Alaska coast, with long horizontal wells drilled from onshore and built a costly specialized drill rig to do the work. However, the project was abandoned due to technical challenges in drilling the wells, some of which were planed to be eight to nine miles long.

In an interview, Richard Garrard, an independent exploration geologist familiar with northern Alaska, said that geologic conditions can vary within fields on the North Slope, making horizontal drilling a challenge in some locations.

Still, ConocoPhillips has high hopes for long horizontal wells. “Extended reach technology has been a game-changer for ConocoPhillips,” said Vincent Lelarge, vice president, Alaska Asset Development.

“It’s how we are able to responsibility develop fields like Fiord West Kuparuk with minimal footprint on the tundra and the surrounding environment.”

Lelarge said ConocoPhillips has been working with Doyon on its new rig since 2011, when the use of an extended reach drilling rig was being evaluated for Fiord West. The rig was built in Canada and moved to Alaska in 2020, but work was suspended that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but resumed in 2021.