Breaking free

the beast

“The Beast” on the frozen tundra

Alaska’s North Slope oil patch was Wednesday abuzz with the news “The Beast” – or at least parts of it – had broken free and was loose on the tundra.

It was not good news for ConocoPhilips, the state’s largest producer of crude oil.

The 9.5-million-pound Beast is an oil rig intended to revolutionize oil drilling in the Arctic with an ability to reach horizontally for more than three miles from its pad.

Built by Doyon Drilling, an Alaska Native corporation, the rig weighs “equivalent to almost 10 fully loaded Boeing 747s and (is) one and a half to two times more powerful than other North Slope rigs. (It) is expected to increase oil production by accessing previously unreachable resources without expanding the surface footprint,” Petroleum News reported in December. 

Engineering magazine in February touted the rig as an “engineering marvel and…game changer in the oil drilling industry…able to develop 154 square miles of reservoir, which is up to three times more the area where the existing rigs can reach at present. Rig-26 is considered to be immensely powerful and will be able to reach oil levels that have not been touched before.”

How it ended up off the road and stuck there on the frozen tundra of Alaska’s North Slope is at this time unclear, but the accidents stirs memories of BP’s ill-fated Liberty rig.

As the decade of the 2000s was coming to a close, BP was preparing to deploy Liberty with the intent of drilling horizontally for five miles north beneath the Arctic Ocean to reach the offshore Liberty prospect.

“BP is investing $1.5 billion in developing the project,” Offshore Technology reported at the time. “Production from the field is expected to last for 20 to 40 years. BP plans to develop the oilfield from its existing facilities in the Endicott field in Prudhoe Bay. Production from the oilfield will be carried out using the world’s first ultra extended reach drilling (u-ERD) technology.”

That rig too was billed as an engineering marvel designed to handle the immense torque that must be applied to drilling pipe to bend it horizontally instead of simply punching vertically down into the ground.


Some environmental groups worried the new technology could fail. “BP is Pursing Alaska Drilling Some Call Risky,” the New York Times headlined in 2010.

With Liberty on hold, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to stop the project after BP’s Macando well blew out in the Gulf of Mexico that year, and the pipe beneath the sunken Deepwater Horizon oil rig began spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Relying on dangerous and untested technologies, BP hoped to drill the world’s longest horizontal well off the Alaska coast,” a media release from the group said at the time. “The plan was far from foolproof and, as with BP’s Gulf project, the federal agency that oversees oil activities in Alaska had been far too cozy with the oil companies. In fact, the Interior Department allowed BP to write much of the environmental review for this risky planned project.

“And if something were to have gone wrong at Liberty, whose planned site was in the heart of threatened polar bear country, BP simply does not have the ability to deal with it. No one does. There is not the infrastructure or technology to deal with an oil spill in the Arctic.”

As BP fought for months to shut off a wellhead pumping an estimated 42,000 to 210,000 gallons of crude into the ocean every day, the Liberty project remained on hold. Eventually, the project was abandoned.

The company later sold half its interest in the Liberty field to Houston-based Hilcorp, an independent oil company, and Hilcorp in 2018 secured federal approval to build a gravel island off the coast on which to put a traditional rig to drill vertically,

“The gravel island would be built in 19 feet (5.8 meters) of water about 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) off shore,” the Associated Press reported. “The site is 15 miles (24 kilometers) east of Prudhoe Bay, North America’s largest oil field.”

Work on that project is slated to begin in 2022. Meanwhile, BP – which pioneered Prudhoe – is trying to transfer all of its Alaska assets to Hilcorp and exit the north.

The sale has run into opposition from Alaskans concerned about Hilcorp’s safety record, but appears to be moving forward. The world’s fifth largest oil company, BP publicly billed its departure from the 49th state after 60 years as part of larger corporate realignment. 

Privately, employees said the company was tired of dealing with an aging oil field with rusting pipes with no easy means of repair and wrestling with an ever-shifting state tax structure.

Alaska love

ConocoPhillips, on the other hand, has remained nothing but upbeat about prospects in the 49th state.

“ConocoPhillips is increasingly bullish about its western North Slope Alaska projects, where recent drilling has increased resource estimates and lowered expected costs of supply,” S&P Global Platts reported in November.

ConocoPhillips was then touting horizontal drilling as lowering Slope oil production costs to $35 to $40 per barrel. It added, however, that it would need to find partners to help cover the projected $15 billion to $17 billion needed for planned development over the next 10 years.

The Beast’s escape from its trailer can only add to those costs and likely delay its scheduled April start up. And the accident could not have happened at a worse time.

COVID-19 has spooked the investment market, and a battle between OPEC and Russia for control of the global oil market is pushing oil prices to lows not seen since 2002 and 2003.

“International benchmark Brent crude traded at $26.01 Wednesday, down around 9 percent, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $22.73, more than 15 percent lower,” CNBC reported.

Analysts are expecting low prices to continue into 2021. And much of the Western world is now largely shut down due to fears of the latest coronavirus.

beast two

The Beast part 1 and part 2, which remains on the road

Clarification: An early version of this story reported the rig was off its trailer, but more detailed photos appear to show it on the trailer but off the road.






10 replies »

  1. Chloroquine is prescribed for malaria, but is also doled out as a mere prophalactic or preventative, for millions of people simply journeying to parts of the world with malaria.

    Yet it’s not without side-effects & hazards (mainly, that too much well kill ya). But it’s been very widely used, by 100s of millions if not billions.

    Kind of a rip for the corporate drug-makers, spotting a fat hog with the Chinese virus, but there will still be big demand for a real vaccine.

  2. On topic,

    That’s not good! There’s a lot of know-how up there and a lot of equipment to get that rig back on the road, but that’s not good! And man, the driver is now stuck up there for another two weeks…can’t even go home and forget about it, brutal.

    • False. We can go home if we choose there are just no coming back until this virus stuff clears

    • Steve Bannon, another conspiracy theorist and the B news, like Fox & F, bunch of fake news and hogwash. A Fox show host, recently recanted all of his misinformation about Covid-19. Like the “birthers” and Rush they are a full of hate and bigotry.
      Bunch of Losers!

      • Jame’s, your list is pretty lean. Haha. You left out CNN, MSDNC, anti-American Dems, Russian and Ukranian hoaxers, traitorous coupers, Costa, Maddcow, Hollyweird,
        Etc.. I could go on and on. But, out of respect for Craig I will not 🙂 You are old enough to recognize Commies, Facists, and Marxist/Socialists when you see one or a whole party of them.

  3. “ConocoPhillips, on the other hand, has remained nothing but upbeat about prospects in the 49th state.”
    At $20 dollars a barrel does it even “pay” to get AK oil out of the ground at this time?
    Maybe BP had a market “tip”?
    Does anyone remember the Kulluk which Shell thought would revolutionize Arctic oil exploration?
    “Shell’s drilling rig, Kulluk, ran aground off the coast of Alaska in late 2012 due to the company’s “inadequate assessment and management of risks” in icy, storm-tossed waters, said the U.S. Coast Guard”
    Our government officials keep telling us that these producers are the “experts” yet every time we see thrm putting profit over safety concerns?
    As the fossil fuel market in America continues to tank this week, maybe…just maybe it is time to make the switch towards a greener economy instead of continuing to bail out a failing paradigm time and time again?

    • Steve, oil companies are sued daily by leftist orgs..Daily over this or that. So, all this corporate “greed” doesnt come without frivolous fights. Secondly, oil companies have a certain profitable price point to remove oil out of certain ground. Say $57/barrel. Right now I suspect they will drill and cap and wait a year or two, maybe longer to remove the oil. Drill at todays prices, removed at a tomorrows higher price. Smart. They also realize being good stewards of the land helps. Oil is messy business but necessary to our economies and livelihoods.

      • Bryan,
        All “Leftist” aside, the situation for the future of AK’s mono economy looks bleak.
        “Alaska North Slope crude sold for $27.73 per barrel on March 17, according to the Revenue Department…
        According to aggregated figures provided by Revenue, Alaska companies currently spend nearly $39 per barrel, on average, to produce oil and ship it to West Coast refineries.”
        I believe Republicans were creating a state budget based on $70 per barrel crude?
        I have been saying for years, we needed to divest the PF from big oil and move more towards renewables and a tech sector in AK.
        The world is flush with oil…Africa, Saudi, Iraq, Iran, UAE, Russia, Venezuela.
        Superpowers like China are moving towards electric cars, solar and hydro.
        The airline industry and cruise ships along with oil all need government “bail outs” once again.
        This is a waste of debt we cannot afford to pass on to our next generation when what we really need is a green plan moving forward.
        Alaska will see the greatest population exodus this Spring and Summer since the 1980’s when the oil market last crashed up here.
        Sadly, I doubt much change will come other than a new vaccine or two (that are not tested) and another drain on Americans retirement accounts across the country.

  4. “Never let a good crisis go to waste”.. The more oil spilled into the gulf, the better for the enviro struggle right? Assist in creating a disaster and then crush that industry with overburdensome regulations to “prevent a disaster”.
    “As BP fought for months to shut off a wellhead pumping an estimated 42,000 to 210,000 gallons of crude into the ocean every day,” – BP may have fought alone while the Obama Admin purposely dragged it’s feet.

    “Americans have waited long enough for the Obama administration to show leadership and use all of its resources to effectively manage the environmental disaster that continues to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz. “Unfortunately, taxpayers and local industries are bearing the brunt of the administration’s inaction. Gulf businesses and livelihoods are being destroyed by spewing oil while the administration continues to restrict the resources that can be used.

    I am disappointed, however, that the President has failed to waive the Jones Act for foreign ships, who want to assist in the clean-up efforts. There is no good reason to turn away international help in responding to this environmental catastrophe.”

    Several countries have offered to help the United States with the aftermath of the oil spill, including those with the most high tech and effective oil skimming ships. European companies from Belgian, Dutch and Norwegian firms with such advanced environmental technology could dramatically speed the Gulf coast clean up, Djou and other advocates of the waiver say.

    However, they are prevented from getting involved because of the federal Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which mandates that all goods shipped between U.S. ports be transported in U.S.-built, U.S. owned and U.S. manned ships. Obama can issue a waiver, but so far has refused to do so, and he made no mention of the Jones Act during his address from the Oval office.

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