With the help of an Alaska Native corporation and state logistics experts, ConocoPhillips is about to employ a piece of equipment on the North Slope that should be the envy of oil drillers everywhere.
ConocoPhillips and Doyon Drilling Inc. are in the final stages of more than three years of work to employ Doyon’s Rig 26 on the North Slope.
ConocoPhillips Alaska leaders have said that it would help transform oil development in Alaska since October 2016 when a contract between the companies to build the extended reach drilling rig was announced.
That’s because Rig 26, a.k.a. “The Beast” inside the oil company, is simply bigger and more powerful than any other mobile land-based drilling rig on the continent, according to ConocoPhillips.
The company says Rig 26 will be able drill up to 37,000 feet, or more than seven miles, out from the pad it sits on when it goes to work in a few months. Current North Slope rigs, which have advanced dramatically in recent years, have a maximum reach of about 22,000 feet, according to ConocoPhillips.
Looked at another way, Rig 26 will have a reach of 154 square miles from a 14-acre drilling pad, compared to existing rigs that generally have a reach of about 55 square miles, according to ConocoPhillips.
That extended reach will allow the producer to reach pockets of oil that previously would have required substantial new infrastructure from existing pads, reducing development costs and timelines.
“In a nutshell, it’s more powerful. In terms of just the amount of pump power that it has and hoisting capacity that it has — just much more powerful than the other rigs and that’s what allows us to drill much longer depths of wells,” ConocoPhillips Rig 26 Project Director Paul McGrath said in an interview.
“In terms of the rig itself, with it being brand new it also comes available with some of the latest and greatest technologies for rig automation to help us make the operation safer and also automate some of the more mundane tasks that go into constructing a well, too.”
Rig 26 is approximately 9.5 million pounds and has four mud pumps each rated to 2,200 horsepower; pumps of that size are typically reserved for large offshore drilling rigs, McGrath said.
He additionally noted that ConocoPhillips has invested in multi-fuel capability for Rig 26, meaning it will be able to burn a mix of processed field gas and diesel, and that also carries multiple benefits.
“It’s got the potential to displace about 50 percent of the diesel required to operate the rig, which will be a big savings for us in terms of emissions as well as cost throughout the program,” McGrath said.
It’s the rig’s ability to mitigate surface development footprints that spurred its development in the first place; not for cost or time, but rather for the environment.
In 2015, ConocoPhillips agreed with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to commission a rig that could pull oil from the Fiord West prospect in the company’s Alpine oil field without needing additional pads, roads and pipelines.
Committing to the new drilling rig gave ConocoPhillips the opportunity to extend its leases for Fiord West.
The oil underneath the Fiord West leases was no secret — Atlantic Richfield Co. discovered it in 1996 -- but given its location under the environmentally sensitive Colville River delta, no one had been able to reach it economically and in an environmentally responsible manner. Enter Doyon Rig 26.
The companies currently have the rig about 90 percent assembled at Doyon’s facilities in Deadhorse, ConocoPhillips spokeswoman Patty Sullivan wrote via email.
McGrath characterized the many rig modules as going together “like a big Lego set,” that will be taken down only to be put together again.
Once it is commissioned and tested at Deadhorse, it will be broken down and hauled, in pieces, 82 miles to the CD2 drill site where it will be reassembled and be ready to drill in April, according to Sullivan.
From CD2 it will be able to access Fiord West.
ConocoPhillips expects to eventually produce up to 20,000 barrels per day from the Fiord West oil pool. Company leaders say they have at least 10 years of work lined up for Rig 26, which could include drilling at some of the company’s numerous other North Slope oil projects.
However, the work Rig 26 will be able to accomplish is only part of the story. Building it and getting it to the Slope was also an undertaking of Alaska-scale proportions.
According to Doyon spokeswoman Sunny Guerin, the 3.5-year construction period for the rig was nearly twice the construction time needed for the company’s more traditional-sized North Slope rigs.
With the aid of Lynden Transport, it also required approximately 270 tractor-trailer loads to get Rig 26 from its birthplace in Nisku, Alberta, a suburb of Edmonton, 2,400 miles north and west to Alaska’s Arctic coast.
McGrath said traditional rigs require about 140 truckloads that also are individually smaller than the pieces of Rig 26.
Aaron Schutt, CEO of Interior regional corporation Doyon Ltd., the drilling company’s parent, said in a statement for the Journal that managing the Rig 26 project has been the Doyon’s top priority since the contract was signed in 2016.
“Doyon is very pleased to see the rig finally on Alaska’s North Slope and we look forward to it going to work in spring 2020. Doyon Drilling is a company that has made every effort to build a brand based on innovation and excellence in Arctic drilling and Rig 26 is a testament to our brand,” Schutt said. “We are very proud of our employees and our relationship with our rig builder, NOV, for making a bold concept become a reality.”
Doyon expects about 65 of its employees will be working on Rig 26 when it is deployed and additional help will be needed for support operations such as work camps, truck drivers and other needs, McGrath added.