The Department of Energy (DOE) announced it will fund aBillings, MT, company’s proposal to further refine and test acoal-based filtering product that could remove the impurities inthe water produced by stripper gas wells, thereby greatly reducingwaste-water disposal costs for producers and royalty owners. In theend, the DOE believes the product has the potential tosignificantly prolong the life of the thousands of stripper gaswells 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, testand evaluate what could be a “promising” spinoff application of thecoal-based product, called SynCoal, in stripper gas wells. DOEselected Western SynCoal’s proposal in the third and final round ofcompetition among projects aimed at extending the life of strippergas wells.

The coal-based product, which was originally intended as alow-sulfur fuel for power plants, is so economical that, ifsuccessful, it could cut the water-disposal costs for low-volumegas wells by up to 70%, according to DOE. Such “dramatic” costsavings would enhance the economics of thousands of stripper wellsnationwide, allowing gas to continue flowing that might otherwisebe shut in, the department said.

In the lower-48 states, DOE estimated that more than half of allonshore gas wells are classified as low-volume stripper wells.Typically, each of the more than 191,000 wells in this categoryproduces 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, thedepartment said, but it added that their numbers are growing. Inthe past seven years, about 30,000 gas wells have been reclassifiedas stripper wells. As their production declines, many are beingplugged and abandoned.

A major reason has been the cost of waste-water disposalassociated with these wells, the DOE said. As the flow of gasdeclines, the influx of water in these stripper wells increases.Gas producers often must truck the waste water to disposal wellsthat are located several miles from the production site. Excludingtrucking costs, DOE estimated that waste-water disposal can cost asmuch as $2 per barrel.

Western SynCoal’s novel filtering system, which researchersbelieve will be ideal for filtering contaminated waste water fromstripper wells, will be tested at an existing gas productionfacility owned and operated by North American Resources Co. (NARCo)of Denver, CO. NARCo owns and operates about 450 stripper gas wellsin the Denver-Julesberg Basin in Colorado. Both NARCo and WesternSynCoal are affiliates of Montana Power Co.The project will bemanaged by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, whichoversees a broad spectrum of the department’s energy andenvironmental programs.

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