For the first time, the Department of Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and an international research team have proven that it is technically feasible to produce natural gas from gas hydrates, the naturally occurring “ice like” combination of natural gas and water that may be more abundant than conventional gas supplies — especially in Arctic regions like the Mackenzie Delta.

The successful results of the first modern, fully integrated gas hydrate production tests at a Mackenzie Delta drilling site known as Mallik were unveiled this week at a symposium in Japan. Scientists focused on the Mackenzie Delta because it has one of the highest concentrations of known gas hydrates in the world, according to USGS. The successful results from this research now form the most detailed scientific information to date about the occurrence and production characteristics of gas hydrates.

For the uninitiated, the estimated amount of natural gas in gas hydrate accumulations more than exceeds the volume of all known conventional gas resources — an important fact for North America as its conventional reserves decline. In fact, Natural Resources Canada estimates hydrate reserves in Canada could be 32 times higher than its conventional gas sources. However, research is still new, and the technical challenges of bringing hydrates into the marketplace are “substantial” — it could be years before gas hydrates become a viable energy source, according to both Canadian and U.S. researchers.

However, the latest research from Mallik proved “extremely successful,” said the team. “The results demonstrated that gas can be produced from gas hydrates with different concentrations and characteristics, exclusively through pressure stimulation. The data supports the interpretation that the gas hydrates are much more permeable and conducive to flow from pressure stimulation than previously thought. In one test, the gas production rates were substantially enhanced by artificially fracturing the reservoir.”

Natural Resources Canada, which led a 79-day, C$14 million experiment at the Mallik field, drilled one production and research well and two observation wells. In the process, it completed cross-well tomography surveys, a vertical seismic profiling survey, surface seismic studies and continuous coring from the top of the hydrate zone to beneath the free-gas interval. Hydrate intervals were on average between about 33 feet and 66 feet thick.

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