Oil & Gas
Changing Players in Evolving Oil Fields
The North Slope is gearing up for the new decade
By Amy Newman
© Gary Schultz / Alaska Stock
“This effort to sell down some of our interests is really a way to better manage the capital requirements that we’re going to need to move forward with all of this work that we have planned in the future. We see a lot of potential in the North Slope, considering that it’s under the current tax regime, so what we’re trying to do is spread out the risk and reward a little bit.”
Natalie Lowman, Director of Communications
ConocoPhillips Alaska

inpointing the exact date new oil operations will come online and their subsequent production levels is an educated guess at best. Even then, access to funding; the permitting process; environmental regulations; changes in local, state, or federal government administrations; or, as is happening now in Alaska, attempts to change the oil tax structure, can all derail those estimates.

Predictions are, as oil and gas executives are careful to point out at investor meetings and presentations, “forward-looking statements” based on the circumstances that exist when the predictions are made and outcomes are, for better or worse, subject to change. With that in mind, here are the 2020 projections for Alaska’s North Slope, from continuations of appraisal and exploration projects begun in 2019 to big changes among the major players.


Alaska’s oil and gas industry saw a huge shake-up in 2019 when BP announced the $5.6 billion sale of its Alaska assets to Hilcorp. The sale encompasses BP’s 26 percent working interest in Prudhoe Bay, its non-operating interests at the Point Thomson and Milne Point fields and the Liberty project, exploration leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, its shares of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System, and midstream interests in the Milne Point and Point Thomson pipelines. According to an August 2019 press release, Hilcorp will pay $4 billion in the near-term, with the remaining $1.6 billion paid through an earnout.

State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner Corri Feige told legislators at a joint session of the Senate and House resources committees in December that the DNR was one-third of the way through its review of the sale; the Regulatory Commission of Alaska is also examining portions of the sale, including ownership transfer of the pipeline.

BP Alaska spokesperson Megan Baldino says BP will continue to operate the Prudhoe Bay assets until the sale is finalized. BP and Hilcorp hope to close on the deal during the second quarter of 2020; Alaska law imposes no timeline on when the state must complete its review.


The big news from ConocoPhillips Alaska is the planned sale of 25 percent of its working interest in the Kuparuk River Unit on the western North Slope, which includes Alpine and undeveloped acreage in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Natalie Lowman, director of communications for ConocoPhillips Alaska, says the sale will help the company realize the full potential of its remaining North Slope assets.

“This effort to sell down some of our interests is really a way to better manage the capital requirements that we’re going to need to move forward with all of this work that we have planned in the future,” she says. “We see a lot of potential in the North Slope, considering that it’s under the current tax regime, so what we’re trying to do is spread out the risk and reward a little bit.”

Lowman says that ConocoPhillips has been considering a co-venture since it purchased the Kuparuk assets from BP in 2018.

Though she couldn’t discuss which companies, if any, have come forward as potential buyers, Lowman says ConocoPhillips will retain operatorship of the sold assets on top of having a 75 percent majority ownership interest.

In terms of 2020 projects, the most significant is Greater Moose’s Tooth 2 (GMT-2), which has “been in the mix for a number of years” and was finally sanctioned in 2018, ConocoPhillips’ Vice President of External Affairs and Transportation Scott Jepsen said during a presentation to the Resource Development Council in November. Roughly 700 people worked to lay gravel last winter, and work is expected to continue the next two winter seasons to meet the 2021 first oil target.

“This is going to be a pretty big project,” Jepsen said. “It’s a single drill site, but it’s a new field that we’re developing. This is not connected to the Alpine field; it’s a standalone reservoir that will produce 40,000 barrels per day gross at peak, with forty-eight wells, and cost over $1 billion to build.”

The arrival of an extended reach drilling (ERD) rig from Canada will allow ConocoPhillips to finally begin development in Fiord West, which is in the northwest corner of the Alpine field. Internally called “The Beast,” Jepsen said the ERD rig can cover an area greater than 154-square miles and is capable of drilling more than seven miles away from the pad, triple the area that can be drilled from its existing drill sites.

“We could not develop this area without this rig,” he said. “It’s been on our books for about twenty years or so, but we could never figure out a way to build it economically or get the permits to build the facility even if it made economic sense, because it’s an area that’s pretty environmentally sensitive.”

In addition to these two projects, ConocoPhillips will continue exploration and appraisal of its Willow and Harpoon prospects with plans for seven wells—four appraisal wells at Willow and three exploration wells southwest of Willow at Harpoon, Lowman says. There are also plans to drill additional horizontal wells from the existing Alpine drill site into the Narwhal accumulation.

ConocoPhillips is also in the planning stages for development of the Nuna Prospect, which it acquired from Caelus in 2019. Expansion of the Kuparuk River Unit will allow for production of Nuna through the Kuparuk facilities, making production easier and more cost-efficient, Jepsen said. Lowman says it should take a winter’s worth of work to lay the gravel pad; work in infrastructure tie-ins, modules, and pipe racks; and create space to drill the wells for a projected 2022 startup.

The projects are expected to create 1,300 jobs in capital projects and exploration activities.

“That includes everything we need to execute the entire winter season,” Lowman says. “So that includes building 160 miles of ice roads, supporting the exploration teams, staffing two rigs to drill those seven exploration wells, and continuing construction on GMT-2.”

Oil Search

Oil Search continues to move forward with maintenance and development projects in the Nanushuk field, part of its 2018 Pikka Unit Development acquisition, along with satellite fields Alpine Fairways and the Horseshoe discovery. In 2019 Oil Search exercised the $450 million Armstrong Energy/GMT Exploration Co. option, which doubled the company’s interests in the Pikka Unit, Horseshoe Block, and other exploration leases, spokesperson Amy Burnett says.

This year Oil Search plans to test Nanushuk analogs in the Mitquq and Stirrup Prospects with a two rig, two drill site exploration program, Burnett says. The Mitquq Prospect is located less than 10 kilometers from the Pikka ND-A Pad; the Stirrup Prospect, located in the Horseshoe Block, is adjacent to and a direct analog to the Horseshoe 1 discovery Armstrong Energy drilled in 2015. The option exists for Oil Search to core and test both in the event of success.

“We could not develop [Fiord West] without this [extended reach drilling] rig. It’s been on our books for about twenty years or so, but we could never figure out a way to build it economically or get the permits to build the facility even if it made economic sense, because it’s an area that’s pretty environmentally sensitive.”
Scott Jepsen
Vice President of External Affairs
ConocoPhillips Alaska

Oil Search is currently undertaking activities to advance an early production scenario, Burnett says. This would include one drill site and the required roads, pipelines, and other infrastructure needed to support early production of an estimated 30,000 barrels of oil per day in 2022.

“Construction of the gravel roads and pads associated with the early production system will begin this winter,” Burnett says. “This system includes part of the road system and one of the drill sites associated with the full project.” Construction is expected to carry over to next winter, she adds.

In December, as part of the company’s pre-FEED work, resource specialist Ryder Scott conducted an assessment of the Pikka project, which produced welcome news—a revised estimate that the development holds 728 million barrels of gross 2C contingent recoverable oil, a 46 percent increase over the previous 500-million-barrel estimate.

Oil Search expects to enter front-end engineering design (FEED) for full project development scope of the Pikka Project in early 2020, though that is “contingent on a joint venture approval and finalization of several third-party agreements,” the company states.

Oil Search also plans to divest 15 percent of its 51 percent interest in Pikka and adjacent exploration leases, though even with the divestment, Oil Search will remain the Pikka Unit operator.

A final investment decision for Pikka is anticipated during the third quarter of this year, with first production of an estimated 120,000 barrels of oil per day expected in 2024.

Eni Petroleum

Italian energy company Eni will resume operations at its Nikaitchuq North Exploration Project, which is drilled from the Spy Island Drill site, in 2020. Eni had to suspend drilling operations at the site in 2019 due to operational issues. Drilling is scheduled to begin this month, with target depth expected to be reached by the third quarter.

Eni’s plan also calls for drilling a second exploratory well at Nikaitchuq North, along with necessary facility upgrades to support the project.


Hilcorp will be working to take the reins from BP once the Alaska DNR and the Regulatory Commission of Alaska approve the sale. Baldino says she anticipates a transition period once the sale closes.

On top of assuming ownership and operation of BPs assets, Hilcorp plans to expand its polymer injection facility at F pad in the Milne Point Unit, located on the Beaufort Sea, as well as drill six development wells into the Ugnu Reservoir at the Milne Point Unit S pad, according to a permit issued by the Alaska Division of Oil & Gas.

Pantheon Resources

Pantheon Resources is seeking a farm-in partner for 90 percent to 100 percent working interest in its 177,000 gross acres on the North Slope, which have the potential to recover an estimated 1.2 billion barrels of oil.

Pantheon submitted plans and permitting requests to drill wells in both its Alkaid/Phecda and Talitha explorations last year, with drilling scheduled to begin at the Alkaid discovery in 2020. Pantheon also plans to drill at Talitha during the winter season.

Advancements in 2019 allowed Pantheon to increase both its working interests and its technically recoverable resources.

“Our successful testing of Alkaid upgraded our P50 technically recoverable resource to 100 million barrels of oil [an additional 25 million barrels], and we concluded a transaction to increase our working interest in the Alkaid/Phecda by one-third to 100 percent,” CEO Jay Cheatham said in November.

Pantheon also acquired approximately 27,840 acres in the North Slope Areawide Lease sale held in December.

88 Energy/Accumulate Energy Alaska

Under a plan of operations approved by the Alaska Division of Oil & Gas in November, 88 Energy, through its subsidiary Accumulate Energy Alaska, will move forward with plans for an appraisal well at Charlie-1, part of its Icewine Project. The project’s primary objective is to test and evaluate the Seebee Formation for oil.

Designed as a step out appraisal of the Malguk-1, which was drilled by BP in 1991, a revised petrophysical analysis of the well and 88 Energy’s 2018 acquisition of a 3D seismic drill helped the company identify what it interprets to be bypassed pay in Malguk. Charlie-1 will intersect seven stacked prospects, four of them believed to be oil-bearing and therefore appraisal targets. Drilling is expected to begin this month and run through April. The total gross mean prospective resource across all seven stacked targets is 1.6 billion barrels.

Operations also include construction and maintenance of 34 miles of ice roads along the Main TWR and Charlie TWR Spur, two ice pads—one drill and one staging—and a possible airstrip.

The project will be conducted under a farm-out agreement between Premier Oil and Burgundy Xploration, with Accumulate Energy in charge of operations and Premier Oil funding the project up to $23 million. Final approval of the project is expected to be granted ahead of the scheduled February spud date.