An international partnership formed to investigate the resource potential of natural gas hydrates has announced plans to drill an initial test well within the Prudhoe Bay Unit (PBU), on the Alaska North Slope. The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have all played important roles in the work of the partnership.
Gas hydrates are naturally occurring combinations of natural gas and water that form in specific conditions of relatively cold temperatures and relatively high pressures. They are known to occur in abundance in northern Alaska , as well as in the shallow sediments of deepwater continental margins around the world, most notably in the Gulf of Mexico and off the southeastern coast of Japan.
Gas hydrates have been researched in the U.S. and Japan since the mid-1990s. The work of both countries confirmed the occurrence of gas hydrates, identified many technical details of its occurrence and nature, and demonstrated the technical feasibility of production.
The international partnership team, including NETL, JOGMEC, the USGS and Petrotechnical Resources – Alaska; have arranged with the Prudhoe Bay unit owners to drill, log, and gather samples to confirm the occurrence of gas hydrate at a location within the Prudhoe Bay unit.
DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, through NETL, funded the current drilling phase of the project. NETL, JOGMEC, the USGS, and PRA have all provided technical expertise to support the planning and execution of the project.
The initial well will feature temperature and acoustic monitoring devices that will allow it to serve as a monitoring well for potential further production testing field experiments.
The effort builds upon prior gas hydrate field research conducted by both the U.S. and Japan, including successful short-duration tests in Canada in 2002, 2007, and 2008; in Alaska in 2007 and 2012; and offshore Japan in 2013 and 2017. However, the cost and complexity of arctic and deepwater marine research has limited field testing programs to relatively short duration.
The next critical step is for the international partnership team to conduct field experiments of sufficient duration to reveal how gas hydrates release natural gas in response to reservoir depressurization. The site in Alaska has the potential to provide a unique opportunity to conduct experiments over many months because the partnership with industry will allow access to sites on a year-round basis.
The collaborative effort has benefitted from the support of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to facilitate gas hydrate evaluation in Alaska.