The Hot Ice No. 1 well drilled over the last year south of Kuparuk on Alaska’s North Slope didn’t find the gas hydrates it targeted, but the U.S. Department of Energy said March 1 that while the well “did not encounter methane hydrate as expected,” it “did produce information that should help to overcome the substantial technical obstacles to the eventual commercial production of this abundant energy resource.”
Hot Ice No. 1 was drilled as part of a two-year cost-shared partnership between DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Mauer Technology Inc. and Noble Engineering and Development.
Brad Tower of DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, which oversees the methane hydrate research program, said gathering “high-quality scientific data from the subsurface” adds “significantly to our understanding of how hydrate forms, how it can be located, and what its resource potential might eventually be.”
Hot Ice No. 1, just south of the Kuparuk River field and some 60 miles west of Deadhorse, was the first dedicated hydrate well in Alaska. It was spud March 31, 2003, and drilling operations were suspended when the weather warmed and were resumed in January. The well reached its planned total depth of 2,300 feet Feb. 7, about 300 feet below the zone “where temperature and pressure conditions would theoretically permit gas hydrates to exist,” DOE said.
The department said that while there were “significant gas shows” in the well, no gas hydrates were found.
“The absence of hydrate at the site is in itself a significant scientific finding,” said Tom Williams, vice president with Maurer Technology and a member of the team drilling the well. Williams said the well “was expected to encounter a significant thickness of reservoir quality sands in the Upper West Sak unit.” While the sands were there, Williams said, “we found free gas and water rather than hydrate in the hydrate stability zone. Figuring out why will require a thorough post-mortem analysis of the core, log, and seismic data from the well.”
DOE said the well was an opportunity to try out “several unique and previously untested Arctic drilling technologies” expected to be used in future Alaska drilling, including Anadarko Petroleum’s Arctic drilling platform.
The Arctic platform, modules fitted together and mounted on steel legs, allows “light and air to reach the tundra grass at a drill site during the summer months, and the relatively small and shallow holes created by the legs can be filled when drilling is completed. The system eliminates the need to build drilling pads of ice or gravel that have more impact on the tundra landscape,” DOE said.
The department said that there appears to have been “no adverse impact on the environment or wildlife” from leaving the platform in place during the summer, “lending support to the idea that such a system could be used to safely extend the drilling season on the North Slope by several months.”