North America’s largest mobile land rig travels to Alaska’s North Slope

by Patty Sullivan and Jill Rutherford

This month, a new extended reach drilling (ERD) rig with breakthrough capabilities is beginning its 2,400-mile journey from Nisku, Alberta, Canada to a drilling pad on Alaska’s North Slope. Called Doyon 26, the 9.5-million-pound rig — equivalent to almost 10 fully loaded Boeing 747s — will be hauled to Deadhorse, Alaska in pieces. The last of its 267 separate tractor-trailer loads will arrive by November 2019.

“We will take the rig apart in Canada and transport it via trucks to Alaska, running up the Alaska Highway and then up the Dalton Highway. When all the pieces arrive, we’ll put it back together like a big Lego to make seven rig modules,” said Paul McGrath, ERD project director. The modules will cross the resupply roads to Alpine in the first quarter of 2020, he said. The anticipated “first drill” date for the new rig is April 2020.

Paul McGrath
ERD Project Director Paul McGrath   


The ERD rig is expected to increase oil production by accessing previously unreachable resources without expanding the surface footprint. Doyon 26 will enable the development of Fiord West, a field discovered in 1996, located northwest of the main Alpine field.

“ConocoPhillips Alaska has worked on the rig about four years, from initial FEED (front end engineering design) studies and concept stage. During construction we had assistance from our colleagues in Canada. The team recognizes what a game changer this will be for ConocoPhillips Alaska,” McGrath said.


The development rigs working for ConocoPhillips on the North Slope today do not have the capability to access Fiord West without a newly constructed gravel pad, additional pipelines and more roads. Doyon 26 does. Extended reach technology enables the more powerful rig to drill targets seven miles from the surface location. Existing rigs are designed to drill about 22,000 feet from the pad, while the highly specialized Doyon 26 will be able to reach 37,000 feet. That means from a 14-acre drilling pad the high-tech rig will be able to develop 154 square miles of reservoir versus today’s 55 square miles. 

Chip Alvord
Alaska Drilling Manager Chip Alvord

Doyon 26 is the largest mobile land rig in North America and some 1.5 to 2 times as powerful as existing rigs.

“Even though it’s bigger, it’s more agile and more effective at fitting into tight well spacing,” McGrath said. “Special stomper feet will allow us to very accurately walk the rig modules in around tight tolerance areas.”

A development rig often needs to be moved hundreds of miles in a single winter, so mobility is another key factor. “We asked the manufacturer to make this large rig as mobile as typical North Slope rigs,” said Chip Alvord, Alaska drilling manager. “That’s quite a challenge given the size of the rig, but Doyon’s design met that challenge.” The rig moves as fast as the other rigs, and it’s also self-propelled. “The rig’s mobility will allow it to get online and drill a well more quickly,” Alvord said.

During their April visit, a team from ConocoPhillips Alaska tours the drilling rig floor.


ConocoPhillips Alaska signed the contract with Doyon Drilling in October 2016, continuing a 30-year working relationship with Doyon, an Alaska Native regional corporation.

“There are no facilities for constructing drilling rigs in Alaska, so most Arctic rigs are built in Washington state or in the Edmonton area,” McGrath said. Doyon subcontracted with NOV, a company recognized as the foremost designer and fabricator of arctic drilling rigs.

“From size to scale to scope, Doyon and NOV were the obvious choice to build this new rig, with the necessary facilities and expertise for the project,” McGrath said. 

Dwaine Ringguth
 Canada Drilling Superintendent Dwaine Ringguth


For two years, on two-week rotations, two rig supervisors from ConocoPhillips Alaska joined the team in Canada, led by Peter Meier, manager, Drilling & Completions. From Alaska, Matt Shotenski, ERD project analyst, and Mike Winfree, staff drilling engineer, joined the team.

Throughout the construction of the rig, the business units learned from each other. “One area we have shared knowledge on is rig automation. The business units are using similar systems and see the benefits of continuing to collaborate on this exciting area of digital transformation,” said McGrath. 

Dwaine Ringguth, drilling superintendent for ConocoPhillips Canada, appreciates the new technology. “The rig is three years younger than what we have at Montney, and that three years of technology can make a big difference,” he said.

Joe Marushack with microphone, standing, leaning on railing of rig
 Alaska President Joe Marushack speaks during his April visit to the Doyan rig construction site in Canada.
Shon Robinson
Alaska Drilling & Wells Manager Shon Robinson

“Each business unit does things a bit differently, but being able to look over the fence at what your neighbor is doing and take what learnings you can to make your own business unit successful, that’s one of the benefits of joining forces on a project such as this. We don’t have to repeat each other’s mistakes,” Ringguth said.

On April 23, Shon Robinson, manager, Drilling & Wells Alaska, and Peter Meier joined ConocoPhillips Alaska President Joe Marushack and representatives of ConocoPhillips, Doyon, and NOV in Nisku for a tour of what is one of the world’s largest mobile land drilling rigs.

“The size is impressive,” said Robinson. “But more impressive are the technology steps and capability that will come with the rig. It will serve ConocoPhillips well for the next decade and beyond.”