The first offshore methane-hydrate production test was conducted in the Eastern Nankai Trough area of Japan in 2013, subjecting a gas-hydrates reservoir to large drawdowns by reducing bottomhole pressure (BHP) for in-situ dissociation of gas hydrates. This pioneering test has proved the feasibility of the depressurization method through demonstration of gas production from a deepwater gas-hydrates reservoir. Approximately 119 500 std m3 of gas was produced during a continuous flow period of 6 days. However, reservoir response to a range of drawdown conditions was not attainable, which is important for reservoir evaluation, because drawdown became uncontrollable after unintended water production through the gas line occurred.

Gas and water released from the dissociation of gas hydrates were separated by use of a downhole gas-separation system. The separated gas and water were produced to surface by means of two dedicated gas and water lines. Drawdown was executed by pumping out water into the water line by use of an electrical submersible pump (ESP). Drawdown control was designed to regulate the liquid level (or hydrostatic pressure) in the gas line by controlling the ESP frequency and the water-line surface backpressure.

Analysis of production data supported by flow simulations indicated that continuous water production through the gas line was the main reason for the loss of drawdown control. The trigger of the water production was that the water column in the gas line reached surface because of the rising water level resulting from the produced gas, which also lightened the water column and lowered the BHP. Consequently, the continuous water production made it difficult to regulate the drawdown as intended.

The analysis concluded that the risk of water production through the gas line could be significantly lowered if a choke valve was installed at the surface gas line and/or the ESP had high tolerance to the presence of free gas. This first field trial has provided valuable information in understanding the methane-hydrate production system to further improve/develop strategies in controlling large drawdown in the system.

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