ConocoPhillips Alaska plans to restart drilling on the North Slope this year

A drillng facility in low arctic light in snow
A unit at the edge of ConocoPhillips’ Kuparuk oil field, on Alaska’s North Slope. (Rachel Waldholz/Alaska Public Media)

Next year’s budget hasn’t been approved yet, but ConocoPhillips Alaska is planning to restart some of its drilling projects on the North Slope. 

The company’s president, Joe Marushack, outlined plans at the annual Resource Development Council conference on Wednesday in Anchorage.  Marushack said by the end of this year, the company plans to restart some drilling on the North Slope. 

And, it plans to build up operations next year. 

“By the end of 2021, there will be four rigs running between [Great Mooses Tooth] 2, Alpine and Kuparuk. Each rig normally employees about 100 people and each of those jobs support multiple jobs throughout the state economy,” he said.

It has been a challenging year for the oil industry.

Marushack said 2020 was supposed to be the company’s largest exploration and winter construction season ever. 

“We came into the year very excited. It was also slated to be a big drilling year with the startup of the Doyon extended reach drilling rigs at Kuparuk and robust drilling programs in the core fields of Alpine, Prudhoe and Kuparuk,” he said.

As COVID-19 spread, the company saw a steep drop in demand, followed by a collapse of oil prices. First, it suspended development in 2020 and then cut production from the North Slope. 

Thousands of workers left the North Slope as the company tried to reduce the risk of a large outbreak of the virus. Marushack said they worried it could overwhelm health facilities there. The company also asked staff in its Anchorage offices to work from home. 

Now, Marushack said that for the first time since its fields were brought online, Prudhoe Bay, Kuparuk River and Alpine have no rigs running in them.  But, the plan is to have rigs working on two of those fields by the end of 2021. 

One other thing, while the company is planning to continue operating next year — Marushack isn’t. After more than 30 years with ConocoPhillips, he said he’s retiring in January. 

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk, she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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