ConocoPhillips says it’s made big oil find on North Slope

ConocoPhillips has a new 300 million-barrel oil discovery in the federal National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the company’s Alaska President Joe Marushack said Friday morning.

The Willow discovery, as the company has dubbed it, is the result of two exploration wells drilled within the Greater Mooses Tooth Unit about 28 miles west of ConocoPhillips’ central Alpine field facilities last winter.

While still an early stage find, Willow could produce up to 100,000 barrels per day of light oil, according to Marushack.

He announced the prospect at the annual Alaska Support Industry Alliance Meet Alaska conference in Anchorage.

“This discovery is tremendously exciting not only for ConocoPhillips, but also for the state of Alaska. Willow’s proximity to existing infrastructure improves the economic viability of the discovery,” Marushack said. “Development of Willow, a potential multibillion-dollar investment, could provide thousands of jobs during construction and could generate substantial revenue for the federal government, state, North Slope Borough and communities in the NPR-A.”

The discovery is in the Brookian Nanushuk formation, the same one that Armstrong Energy and Repsol have announced a find now under development in the Pikka Unit that the companies estimate to be able to produce 120,000 barrels per day.

ConocoPhillips’ Greater Mooses Tooth-1 and 2 projects now underway are projected to add about 30,000 barrels per day each at peak production. GMT-1 is currently under construction with first oil expected in late 2018 while GMT-2 is in permitting.

The Pikka, GMT and Willow production estimates total nearly 300,000 barrels per day, or about 60 percent of current throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

ConocoPhillips is projecting first oil from Willow could start flowing as early as 2023, assuming no significant environmental permitting or project economic hurdles.

The Tinmiaq No. 2 exploration well produced 3,200 barrels per day during a flow test, according to the company.

Appraisal of the discovery is ongoing and ConocoPhillips will soon be acquiring 3-D seismic data for the acreage surrounding the Tinmiaq well.

Conoco holds a 78 percent working interest in the Willow leases; Anadarko Petroleum Corp. holds the remaining 22 percent ownership share. The two are partners in much of the western North Slope acreage Conoco operates.

Conoco indirectly hinted it might have something in the NPR-A at the December North Slope lease sales.

It, along with bidding partner Anadarko, was the winning bidder on nearly 600,000 federal acres in the NPR-A and about 142,000 state acres as the sole bidder.

“The Willow discovery adds to our history of exploration success in the NPRA and is consistent with our focused global exploration strategy,” said Richard Lunam, president of Exploration, Business Development and Other International for ConocoPhillips, in a press release. “The acreage acquired in the recent state and federal lease sales gives us running room to test the concepts that led to Willow and other NPRA discoveries,” the release said.

Marushack told the Alliance audience that the federal permitting process has been “very slow” on GMT-2 and the company’s projected timeline of beginning construction in 2018 with first oil in 2020 is at risk.

Elwood Brehmer is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.