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ConocoPhillips plans major Alaska investments, asset sale

Highlights

ConocoPhillips bullish on North Slope, cites reserve additions

Horizontal drilling lowers oil supply costs to $35-$40/b

$15 billion-$17 billion new investment needed

Anchorage, Alaska — ConocoPhillips is increasingly bullish about its western North Slope Alaska projects, where recent drilling has increased resource estimates and lowered expected costs of supply.

Alaska is currently one of the best exploration prospects in the world, company officials said.

Still, the projected $15 billion to $17 billion needed for new Alaska development over the next 10 years is causing ConocoPhillips to search for a partner to share risks. The company plans to divest 25 percent of all of its Alaska assets outside a partial ownership of the Prudhoe Bay field by 2021.

Included in the sale would be ConocoPhillips' 100 percent holdings in the producing Kuparuk River and Alpine fields and new discoveries in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in the west-central North Slope.

The capital requirement includes $11 billion for new projects planned in the existing Kuparuk, Alpine and Prudhoe fields, Natalie Lowman, spokeswoman for ConocoPhillips, said Monday in an email.

MAJOR NEW FIND IN RESERVE

Separately, an additional $4 billion to $6 billion will be required for development of Willow, a major new find in the national petroleum reserve, Lowman said.

In a Nov. 19 briefing to analysts, company officials described new resource additions in Alaska at Willow, 30 miles west of the existing Alpine fields. Delineation drilling last winter increased the recoverable resource estimate to 400 million to 800 million barrels from 300 million to 500 million barrels, Mike Hatfield, president of ConocoPhillips' North America and European operating subsidiary, told analysts.

Two horizontal well tests at Willow flowed at 2,500 b/d, giving the company confidence in the reservoir productivity, Hatfield said. Willow's resources could also grow. The geologic formation is 25 miles long and 10 miles wide, and more delineation drilling is planned this winter.

ConocoPhillips also increased estimated resources at Narwhal, a discovery within the Kuparuk field, from 150 million barrels to 400 million barrels based on drilling results last winter, Hatfield said. A horizontal test well at Narwhal flowed at 4,500 b/d. The deposit can be developed with 3-mile-long horizontal production wells drilled from existing Kuparuk field drill pads, so the cost of supply is low, less than $25/b, analysts were told. A production start at Narwhal is expected in 2022.

THREE OTHER PROJECTS JUST AHEAD

In a briefing to a business group in Anchorage, ConocoPhillips Alaska external vice president Scott Jepsen said the company has three other projects planned with expected startups in the next two years. These include Fiord West, a prospect in the Alpine field that will be developed with horizontal production wells and with a startup in 2020.

GMT-2, a $1.4 billion new project in the NPR-A west of the Alpine field, will be producing in 2021. Nuna, a small deposit near the Kuparuk field acquired last year by ConocoPhillips, will also be producing in 2022.

Other new projects are also planned, Jepsen said. In Kuparuk, expansion of viscous oil production project North East West Sak is on the drawing board, as is development of two viscous oil production pads in the western part of the Prudhoe Bay field.

Finally, ConocoPhillips will test yet another recent find in the NPR-A, Harpoon. Three exploration wells are planned this winter at the prospect, which is southwest of the Willow project, Jepsen said. The seismic signature at Harpoon is similar to those at Willow and Narwhal, so the company has high hopes.

'PRUDENT POLICY'

With all this on its plate, ConocoPhillips needs to spread its risk, Matt Fox, ConocoPhillips executive vice president, told analysts.

"We have done a good job of capturing value. We increased [our] position in the Western North Slope and in the Kuparuk with very, very reasonable acquisition costs," he said.

"But going forward, to be prudent in how we balance risk, it makes sense to dilute," Fox said. "We have a prudent policy of not investing in large-scale projects with 100 percent equity, so this is consistent with our past practice. We're pretty confident we'll have a lot of interest in Alaska," Fox said.

-- Tim Bradner, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Bill Montgomery, newsdesk@spglobal.com

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