The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) said a small-scale test of technology to extract natural gas from methane hydrates conducted on Alaska’s North Slope was successful. The department is launching a long-term production test in the Arctic as well as research to test technologies that could be used to locate, characterize and extract methane hydrates on a larger scale in the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“The Energy Department’s long term investments in shale gas research during the 70s and 80s helped pave the way for today’s boom in domestic natural gas production that is projected to cut the cost of natural gas by 30% by 2025 while creating thousands of American jobs,” said DOE Secretary Steven Chu. “While this is just the beginning, this [methane hydrates] research could potentially yield significant new supplies of natural gas.”

DOE has partnered with ConocoPhillips and the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. to test gas extraction from methane hydrate using a production technology developed by the University of Bergen, Norway, and ConocoPhillips. The proof-of-concept test began Feb. 15 and concluded April 10. The team injected a mixture of carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen into the formation and demonstrated that this mixture could promote the production of natural gas. Analyses of the data sets acquired at the field site will be needed to determine the efficiency of simultaneous CO2 storage in the reservoirs, DOE said.

“This test was the first-ever field trial of a methane hydrate production methodology whereby CO2 was exchanged in situ with the methane molecules within a methane hydrate structure,” DOE said. “As part of this exchange demonstration, the depressurization (i.e., production through decreasing pressure of the deposit) phase of the test extended for 30 days. The prior longest-duration field test of methane hydrate extraction via depressurization was six days (in the Japan-Canada 2007/2008 Mallik well testing program).”

The next stages of the DOE research effort are to be aimed in part at evaluating gas hydrate production over longer durations, likely through depressurization, with the eventual goal of making sustained production economically viable. “While this may take years to accomplish, the same could be said of the early shale gas research and technology demonstration efforts that the Department backed in the 1970s and 1980s,” DOE said.

Three years ago a landmark discovery of high saturations of natural gas hydrates within reservoir-quality sands in the Lower Tertiary of the Gulf of Mexico was announced by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy (see Daily GPI, May 15, 2009).

DOE said Wednesday it is making $6.5 million available for research into technologies to locate, characterize and safely extract gas from methane hydrate formations like those in the Arctic and along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Projects are to address deepwater gas hydrate characterization via direct sampling and/or remote sensing field programs; tools and methods for monitoring, collecting and analyzing data to determine reservoir response and environmental impacts related to methane hydrate production; and clarifying methane hydrates’ role in the environment, including responses to warming climates.

The department said it is requesting an additional $5 million in federal funds to further gas hydrates research both domestically and in collaboration with international partners. The exact nature of the research effort is still to be determined; however, a longer duration test of methane hydrate extraction on the North Slope on an existing gravel bed pad that can accommodate year-round operations is envisioned. Such an effort would again require engaging private sector and international partners, DOE said.

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