ConocoPhillips building

The ConocoPhillips building in Anchorage

There’s now a more precise estimate of what ConocoPhillip’s planned Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska could produce. The company has always said officially that production could “exceed 100,000 barrels per day” but information provided to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management narrows the estimate to a peak, or top, rate of 130,000 barrels per day based on 590 million barrels of oil produced from the underground reservoir rock.

Lesli J. Ellis-Wouters, BLM’s Alaska spokesperson, said the company provided a more precise estimate in answers to questions from the agency for a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS, for Willow. The project is expected to be producing in 2025 or 2026 if ConocoPhillips gives final sanction, or approval, for construction. A Final Investment Decision on Willow in expected in 2021, ConocoPhillips said in a July 30 conference call to analysts.

“We previously disclosed rates in excess of 100,000 barrels per day and recoverable volumes in the 450 million to 700 million-barrel range. These profiles and volumes are consistent with that range in the EIS,” ConocoPhillips Alaska spokesperson Natalie Lowman said in an e-mail.

However, the EIS production rates and recoverable volumes may ultimately differ from the final investment decision and project scope. Further appraisal and development planning will further refine these rates,” Lowman said. The hope is that Willow’s resources may increase as more information is obtained from new drilling.

About 400 to 600 people will be employed in Willow’s production operations, a significant increase in the North Slope workforce. The first oil production from the project is expected in 2025 or 2026.

Willow is one of two major new oil projects under development. The second is the Pikka project on state-owned lands near the Colville River, east of the NPR-A. Pikka is being developed by Oil Search, an Australian company, along with its partner Repsol, which is based in Spain. Like at Willow, the companies have not yet made a final investment decision on Pikka. If the project goes ahead it could begin producing in 2022 and reach its full 120,000 barrels per day output in 2024, Oil Search has said.

Between the two projects there could be 250,000 barrels per day of new oil production flowing down the Trans Alaska Pipeline System by 2026. TAPS is moving about 500,000 barrels per day currently, about one-fourth of the two million barrels per day transported when the big North Slope fields like Prudhoe Bay were at their peak in the 1970s and most of the 1980s,

Ellis-Wouters said BLM has public hearings underway on the Willow DEIS in Alaska communities that may be affected by Willow and that a final Record of Decision on the final EIS and federal permits for the project is now anticipated next spring.

Willow’s project plan includes five production pads and approximately 200 wells including production and injection wells. An oil and gas processing plant will be needed along with field flow lines from production pads to the central plant as well as larger pipeline to transport crude oil about 30 miles east to a connection with existing pipelines at ConocoPhillips’ producing Alpine field. From there, oil will move further east to Pump Station One of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System at Prudhoe Bay.

Other infrastructure needed at Willow includes 38 miles of gravel roads and a gravel airstrip for year-around access. Currently ConocoPhillips must build winter snow and ice rods to the area with air service by helicopter. The company will build six large modules for the processing plant elsewhere, most likely in Asia, and move them by barge to the North Slope during the ice-free summer season. The project plan includes construction of a temporary gravel island in shallow waters off the nearby Beaufort Sea coast with modules moved overland to the project site in winter, on ice roads.

ConocoPhillips has not published an estimated cost for Willow but it is expected to be in the multi-billion-dollar range, company officials have said in public presentations.

Willow is significant for Alaska oil and gas development because it wlll extend infrastructure further west in the federally-owned NPR-A. ConocoPhillip has two smaller projects in NPR-A a few miles east, one producing and one in development, but with both GMT-1 and GMT-2 the unprocessed liquids, a mix of oil, water and gas, is sent by pipeline to the Alpine field for processing.

Willow is larger and will need its own stand-alone field process plant. The significant of this is that it will make smaller, nearby discoveries more economic to develop because they can process produced liquids at Willow. ConocoPhillips has already announced new discoveries, including one called “Harpoon” southeast of Willow, and plans further exploration this winter.

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