Arctic temperatures, frozen ground, high winds, heavy snowfall and ice are not ideal for outdoor activity. But for Devon, the conditions are just right for one of the company's busiest drilling programs in Canada.
Devon's winter drilling program typically runs from December through March in northern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia when the ground is frozen for winter-only access. Devon generally spends about half of the company's full-year Canadian capital budget on winter drilling.
Drilling activity takes place on millions of acres in northern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia. Additionally, some parts of the Peace River Arch in Alberta, the Deep Basin and the northwestern part of the Central plains of Alberta are only accessible in the winter.
These areas are limited to winter-only drilling because the only feasible way for heavy drilling equipment to access the area is when the ground is frozen. Since these areas are very wet during the remainder of the year, only ground hardened by sub-zero temperatures can support the heavy equipment needed for drilling. However, because of the extreme cold, maintenance becomes critical to ensure equipment can operate in the freezing conditions.
Everything is more challenging in the extreme conditions. Like changing a flat tire, it's easier to do on a warm summer day than when the temperature is minus-30 degrees Celsius.
In addition to the conditions, another challenge involved with winter drilling is timing. Plans usually call for Devon to drill hundreds of wells in a short amount of time — from the first freeze until the spring thaw.
If the crews are not able to tie-in a well by the time the ice melts, Devon must wait until the following winter to finish the work.
Getting equipment and people out by spring thaw is also important because it accommodates wildlife such as caribou, moose, deer and migratory birds in British Columbia and Alberta.