The Willow discovery, a ConocoPhillips prospect in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, may hold up to 750 million boe and could be rich enough to justify constructing a standalone crude oil hub in the region, management said this week.

However, there’s no rush, the Houston-based super independent said. A final investment decision isn’t expected before 2021. If it were to move forward, management estimates that it could achieve first oil production from the Greater Willow area by 2024-2025 for about $2-3 billion spent for up to five years. The company then could quickly ramp up to full production, spending another $2-3 billion in cumulative drilling capital over multiple years.

"Efforts are underway to analyze and evaluate results from the 2018 appraisal season in order to advance development planning and future appraisal needs," management said.

Additional reserves of up to 350 million boe may be present in the Narwhal trend in Alaska, which is south of the Alpine Field. ConocoPhillips this year has drilled, cored and flow tested two wells targeting the Narwhal -- Putu 2/2A and Stony Hill -- with more appraisals in Narwhal and Greater Willow planned in 2019.

"We believe that the company's Alaska plan aligns with our disciplined, returns-focused strategy, supports Alaska’s economy and creates significant value for shareholders," said CEO Ryan Lance. "Alaska provides competitive investment opportunities and will generate profitable growth from diversified investments with significant exploration upside."

ConocoPhillips, which has a 40-year history in Alaska, launched a continuing exploration program in 2016. The company said in April it had drilled six wells on the western North Slope, including three Willow appraisal wells. In a possible precursor to development, the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management said it received a request in May from a ConocoPhillips subsidiary to prepare an environmental impact statement for Willow.

The company is Alaska's largest producer, and it also holds the most reserves and acreage in the state, but it continues to add to its position.The independent in February acquired an additional interest in about 1.2 million acres in the western North Slope from Anadarko Petroleum Corp. for $400 million, and earlier this month acquired BP plc's interest in the Greater Kuparuk Area for an undisclosed price.

Conversely, ConocoPhillips sold its liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility on the Kenai Peninsula to Andeavor in February. Kenai, which was once the only LNG export terminal in the United States, was first put up for sale in November 2016.

Plans to export LNG from Alaska continue to move forward, albeit at a slow place.

Last month, the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. (AGDC), a state entity, received environmental approval for a 733-mile pipeline that could potentially be used for LNG exports sourced with natural gas from the North Slope. AGDC took control of the Alaska LNG Project from ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil Corp. and BP plc in 2017, after the companies determined the project was no longer economic when compared to other LNG liquefaction projects around the world.

It remains unclear how much natural gas, if any, ConocoPhillips would contribute to the $43 billion Alaska LNG project. The Alaska Journal of Commerce reported on July 13 that AGDC had secured letters of intent or other memorandums expressing interest in buying LNG from 15 entities. ConocoPhillips produced 7 MMcf/d of natural gas in Alaska in 1Q2018.