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DOE: Coal Project to Boost Stripper Wells

DOE: Coal Project to Boost Stripper Wells

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced last week it will fund a Billings, MT, company's proposal to further refine and test a coal-based filtering product that could remove the impurities in the water produced by stripper gas wells, thereby greatly reducing waste-water disposal costs for producers and royalty owners. In the end, the DOE believes the product has the potential to significantly prolong the life of the thousands of stripper gas wells in the United States.

The department plans to award $132,000 to Western SynCoal LLC, which also has earmarked $28,000 of its own money to study, test and evaluate what could be a "promising" spinoff application of the coal-based product, called SynCoal, in stripper gas wells. DOE selected Western SynCoal's proposal in the third and final round of competition among projects aimed at extending the life of stripper gas wells.

The coal-based product, which was originally intended as a low-sulfur fuel for power plants, is so economical that, if successful, it could cut the water-disposal costs for low-volume gas wells by up to 70%, according to DOE. Such "dramatic" cost savings would enhance the economics of thousands of stripper wells nationwide, allowing gas to continue flowing that might otherwise be shut in.

In the lower 48 states, DOE estimated more than half of all onshore gas wells are classified as low-volume stripper wells. Typically, each of the more than 191,000 wells in this category produces about 16 Mcf/d. Combined, the wells account for about 8% of U.S. daily gas production, which equates to about 1.2 Bcf/d, the department said, but it added that their numbers are growing. In the past seven years, about 30,000 gas wells have been reclassified as stripper wells. As their production declines, many are being plugged and abandoned.

A major reason has been the cost of waste water disposal associated with these wells, the DOE said. As the flow of gas declines, the influx of water in these stripper wells increases. Gas producers often must truck the waste water to disposal wells that are located several miles from the production site. Excluding trucking costs, DOE estimated that waste water disposal can cost as much as $2 per barrel.

Western SynCoal's novel filtering system, which researchers believe will be ideal for filtering contaminated waste water from stripper wells, will be tested at an existing gas production facility owned and operated by North American Resources Co. (NARCo) of Denver, CO. NARCo owns and operates about 450 stripper gas wells in the Denver-Julesberg Basin in Colorado. Both NARCo and Western SynCoal are affiliates of Montana Power. The project will be managed by DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Susan Parker

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