Minimizing footprint (literally) means big steps toward responsible development

What is Alpine?

A map of Alaska's North Slope


Located on Alaska’s western North Slope, Alpine, formally called the Colville River Unit, is an important 165-acre plot of land. Alpine is 34 miles west of the Kuparuk Oil Field and 8 miles north of the village of Nuiqsut. Its extreme location poses many challenges to inhabitants and industries alike. Alpine has no permanent road connecting it to other North Slope infrastructure and can only be accessed by an ice road that is only open for 3 months in the coldest parts of the Alaska winter. Temperatures reach as low as -60ºF and more than fifty days of the year never see the sunshine break over the horizon. Who would care about such an extreme piece of land almost in the middle of no-where? Everyone cares. Why? Because underneath the frozen tundra lies one of the largest known oil field deposits in North America. Oil Industries and Nature Conversationists alike have strong opinions on the North Slope’s industrialization. Convincing arguments come from both sides of the isle and the conversation riddled with division. Okay, so how does Alpine fit into this? Alpine represents progress. Progress to a middle ground. Can oil rigs and arctic birds live side by side? At Alpine, we see a step in that direction.


Alpine is a unique development on the North Slope. It was the first of the North Slope oil fields exclusively developed utilizing horizontal drilling technology. Horizontal drilling allows access to petroleum reserves by drilling at multiple angles, instead of limiting drilling to a single vertical shaft. Multiple wells can be reached from a single drill pad. At Alpine, utilization of this technology delivers access to more than 50 square miles of subsurface reserves from each drill site. This drastically reduces the drilling pad footprint needed to develop existing oil reserves. Alpine is a model for future developments on the North Slope and with technology advancing every day, we can only expect to see even more and better innovations to further minimize the environmental footprint of oil and gas developments.

Image from ConocoPhillips (https://alaska.conocophillips.com/who-we-are/alaska-operations/alpine/)


North Slope developments like Alpine have brought benefits to the local people of Nuiqsut, boosting their economy and society through schools, health care, housing, job opportunities, and infrastructure improvements. Alpine also is the source of a natural gas and power that runs directly to Nuiqsut, allowing residents to heat their homes for a fraction of the cost they would typically pay as a rural Alaska village.


With the permission to drill comes the necessity to do so responsibly as a steward of the land. We have seen efforts from the production companies to meet the established environmental standards. ConocoPhillips Alaska, the primary E&P company operating out of Alpine has been a leader in this area. They have invested more than $6 million in the Spirit of Conservation initiative, a program designed to restore, enhance, and provide access to Alaska’s key fish and wildlife habitats and populations. They have additionally financed and collected extensive biological and engineering data in support of and informing North Slope developments.

Image from ConocoPhillips (https://alaska.conocophillips.com/sustainable-development/environment/)


Oil dependence isn’t going away anytime soon. In 2021, the United States consumed an average of 19.78 million barrels of oil every day, an increase of 1.6 million barrels per day above 2020 consumption. With energy demands that high and rising every year, we need to provide the fuel (literally) that will move the vehicle of change in the right direction, toward a greener, more sustainable future. The U.S.


The Department of Energy estimated recoverable oil reserves on the North Slope to be 22 billion barrels, as well as further still undiscovered resources. Natural gas estimates reach as high as 124 trillion cubic feet. Alpine field contains estimates of up to 530 million barrels of recoverable oil reserves. According to the Alaska Department of Revenue, ConocoPhillips’ Alpine unit produced 51,000 – 58,000 barrels of crude oil per day in February of 2022. In 2020, net crude oil production was 25 MBOED (Million Barrels of Oil Equivalent per Day).


Alpine not only provides the natural resources, but it is also an example of the changes that are being made to deliver those resources in a responsible and healthy way, minimizing our environmental impact. The answer isn’t a simple one. We can’t harvest North Slope petroleum with zero impact to people, wildlife, and natural terrain. But we can be our most responsible selves, as producers, contractors, and individuals, and find a middle ground where everyone benefits as we move towards a cleaner future.

About the Author:
Reed Derrick is a Project Coordinator for Delta Constructors, LLC and a member of Velocity’s Innovative Professionals (VIP). His journey in the Oil & Gas industry began in Prudhoe Bay performing facility shutdown work for BP. He currently provides indirect project support to the entirety of the Alaska region from the Delta Constructors office and fabrication facility located in Anchorage.
About the Co-author:
Kathryn Clark is an Administrative Technician at Delta Constructors, LLC and aided in the technical reporting for this piece.