The testing flare burns brightly during a methane hydrate production test of the Ignik Sikumi No. 1 well on the Alaskan North Slope.

A production method that could unlock large reserves of methane hydrate in sand-dominated reservoirs was tested successfully from a scientific and operational standpoint in a recent research experiment on the Alaskan North Slope (ANS). The experiment was conducted by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) of the United States Department of Energy (DOE) in partnership with ConocoPhillips and Japan Oil, Gas, and Metals National Corporation.

A proof-of-concept test was conducted between 15 February and 10 April at the Ignik Sikumi No. 1 well in the Prudhoe Bay field operated by ConocoPhillips. The production technique featured the injection of carbon dioxide (CO2) to exchange and release methane (CH4) from the hydrate, a method developed through laboratory collaboration between the University of Bergen in Norway and ConocoPhillips. The released gas was then produced by means of reservoir depressurization.

“The test objective was to perform injection and flow-back from a single well to validate that the CO2/CH4 exchange mechanism demonstrated in laboratory tests will occur in a reservoir of natural methane hydrates,” said Ray Boswell, technology manager for gas hydrates at the NETL. It was the first field-level trial of a production method involving the exchange of CO2 with the methane molecules contained in a methane hydrate structure. “The focus of the test, including the design of the well, was on the technical feasibility of this new technology, rather than an attempt to produce gas at commercial rates,” Boswell said.

CO2 Mixture Injected in Reservoir

The Ignik Sikumi well test was equipped with downhole fiber-optic distributed temperature and acoustic sensing, three downhole pressure gauges, and full surface instrumentation, including high-resolution in-line gas chromatography. Over a 13-day period, a carbon dioxide/nitrogen mixture was successfully injected into the 30-ft-thick reservoir interval, saturated with methane hydrate, without loss of injectivity. This was followed by a production stage in which the pressure was held above the stability pressure of the in-situ methane hydrate. CH4 was produced during this stage, and initial data analyses indicated that CO2 exchange was achieved. Ongoing analyses of the extensive datasets acquired at the field site are under way to determine the overall efficiency of simultaneous CO2 storage/CH4 production from the reservoir.

As part of the demonstration, the depressurization phase of the test extended for 30 days. The longest previous field test of depressurization to extract gas from hydrate lasted 6 days as part of a Japanese-Canadian testing program at the Mallik well in Canada’s Northwest Territories during 2007 to 2008.

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