Research by the US Energy Department (DOE) has found that the injection of a carbon dioxide and nitrogen mixture into a methane hydrate formation on Alaska’s North Slope can produce a constant natural gas flow.
According to the DOE, the research breakthrough may lead to the opening of an enormous gas resource to expand even further the massive US gas reserves.
The government department said that the project was the first field test of such a production method for the frozen methane hydrates in the Arctic permafrost and at extreme ocean depths. It said, however, that it will be years before such production can become economically feasible.
A significant body of gas hydrate research has been developed since 1972 when the world’s first gas hydrate test well was drilled on the North Slope of Alaska.
The discovery of several large gas hydrate accumulations in the area of the Prudhoe Bay, Kuparuk River and Milne Point oil fields on the North Slope, which may contain as much as 100trillion cubic feet of in-place gas, have heightened interest in gas hydrates as a potential energy resource.
However, according to the US Geological Survey, none of these gas hydrate accumulations have been adequately tested to determine how much commercially viable gas actually can be produced from the gas hydrates.
Furthermore, extraction techniques do not yet exist that have been demonstrated practical for commercial scale production. Although Northern Alaska gas-in-place resource estimates for hydrates are large, hydrates are still an unconventional resource and research is still needed to understand what portion of those resources are technically and economically viable.
US energy secretary Steven Chu said of the latest research results: “While this is just the beginning, this research could potentially yield significant new supplies of natural gas.”
The US DOE is undertaking methane hydrate production research in cooperation with ConocoPhillips and Japan Oil, Gas & Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC). It has committed $6.5million to this year’s project and another $5million for continued research next year. Japan has an extensive gas hydrates programme, hence the JOGMEC involvement.
As part of President Obama’s budget proposal for 2013, the department is requesting an additional $5million for gas hydrates research both domestically and in collaboration with international partners. That could include a longer test of extraction in the North Slope, which would again require work with private-sector and international partners.