Plans to develop first NPR-A oil production facilities open to public comment

Eric Lidji | Petroleum News
Anne Raup

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is taking comments on a ConocoPhillips plan to develop the first production facilities in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The federal land manager is taking comments through April 22 on a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed Greater Mooses Tooth unit development.

The statement is a supplement because the BLM already considered the project 2004 Alpine Satellite Development Plan and is only considering changes over the past decade.

While the GMT-1 proposal that ConocoPhillips submitted last summer is similar to its original plan, the project was "modified to reduce impacts," according to the BLM.

Those changes include moving a pad and a bridge out of the setback area of a creek, reducing the length of roads and pipelines and reducing the size of an associated mine.

In addition to the ConocoPhillips proposal, the BLM is also considering four alternatives, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Those include a scheme to avoid the setback from Fish Creek, to provide access through Nuiqsut, to access the site without using roads and the "no action" alternative included in all federal environmental reviews.

Of the four development options, the ConocoPhillips proposal -- also known as Alternative A -- would require the least amount of gravel, the shortest amount of pipeline and the shortest amount of road (aside from the "roadless" alternative).

The proposal envisions an 11.8-acre GMT-1 drilling pad in the Great Mooses Tooth unit capable of supporting 33 wells. A 7.8-mile access road and an 8.1-mile elevated pipeline would connect the GMT-1 pad to the CD-5 pad currently under construction in the neighboring Colville River unit. ConocoPhillips would also build bridges over Crea Creek and the Ublutuoch River capable of supporting drilling rig transportation.

For Alternative B, the BLM imagines "routing the access road and pipeline from GMT-1 to CD-5 south of the Fish Creek setback and tying it in to the CD-5 road and pipeline east of the CD-5 drill site at a new tie-in pad." The proposal would eliminate the need for a bridge over Crea Creek and a culvert at Barely Creek, but would require longer roads and pipelines, as well as an additional small gravel pad to accommodate some equipment.

Alternative C would use the drilling pad, access road and pipeline ConocoPhillips described in its proposal, but would upgrade several facilities around Nuiqsut. The Kuukpik Corp. is currently building a Nuiqsut Spur Road to connect the CD-5 access road to the Nuiqsut Dump Road. Alternative C would expand the spur road and the dump road, as well as build an access road and other infrastructure at the Nuiqsut Airport.

While this alternative would create a considerably larger footprint, it would allow ConocoPhillips to use the Nuiqsut Airport as a logistics center instead of the Alpine Central Processing Facility, which would reduce air traffic at Alpine. However, the point might be moot because ConocoPhillips plans to use Alpine for its development work.

Alternative D would require ConocoPhillips to access Greater Mooses Tooth by aircraft from May through January and by ice road for the remaining three months of the year, but would use the same drilling pad and pipeline routes ConocoPhillips is proposing.

While this alternative would reduce the amount of road needed for the development, it would require a 5,000-foot runway, which would ultimately result in a larger footprint.

The final option, Alternative E, would prohibit any development for the time being, but would still require ConocoPhillips to carry out its existing exploration commitments.

By Eric Lidji
Petroleum News