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Japan, US to test methane hydrate output at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska North Slope

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Japan, US to test methane hydrate output at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska North Slope

Highlights

Running output test at Prudhoe Bay

Japan eyes pilot project by fiscal 2027-28

Tokyo — Japan will run its first methane hydrate production test jointly with the US on the Alaska North Slope following drilling works in fiscal 2020-2021 (April-March), as the resource-poor country accelerates technological developments to commercialize output at home, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Wednesday.

The onshore methane hydrate production test will take place at the Prudhoe Bay unit from fiscal 2021-2022 for up to a year, after selecting an operator and subsequent drilling of production test and geo-data wells in fiscal 2020-2021, METI officials said.

The production test, which follows the drilling of an initial test well within the Prudhoe Bay unit in December 2018, aims to collect data on production behavior as well as testing methane hydrate production technology.

The initial test well drilling, involving state-owned Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, the US Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory and the US Geological Survey, confirmed the occurrence of methane hydrate at a location within the Prudhoe Bay unit.

For Japan, the onshore production test in Alaska is one of the country's key pillars to develop methane hydrate technology to start a pilot project led by the private sector over five years to fiscal 2027-28 as part of the current government plan.

The development of methane hydrate also offers Japan a potential domestic source of energy free of geopolitical constraints amid increasing supply concerns after a series of events in the Middle East this year.

Gas hydrate resource - Prudhoe Bay, Northern Alaska

FINDING CONCENTRATED ZONES

On the domestic front, Japan plans to run a series of offshore surveys including 3D seismic surveys in fiscal 2020-21 to find methane hydrate concentrated zones in order to run test drillings in fiscal 2022-23.

This follows Japan's second series of production tests of pore-filling type methane hydrate offshore central Japan, with the second well producing a total of 200,000 cu m of natural gas over 24 days in 2017.

Unlike the first well, which had used different sand control measures, the second well did not experience any inflow of sand, but neither did it see a clear increase in production rates during the output tests.

Japan drilled the two production wells to reach layers containing methane hydrates about 300 meters below the seabed at a water depth of around 1,000 meters.

This was the second round of offshore methane hydrate production tests globally after Japan produced 120,000 cu m, or 20,000 cu m/day, of gas from methane hydrate at an earlier offshore production test at the Daini-Atsumi Knoll in March 2013.

That first output test was stopped after six days -- it had been planned to run for two weeks -- due to an inflow of sand into the production well.

After the 2013 offshore production test, Japan adopted a decreasing pressure system for the second round of methane hydrate output tests in 2017, in which it used shape memory polymers as sand control measures in the two production wells, and drilled two monitoring wells to record changes in temperatures and pressures in different seabed layers during the production test.

Although there are a number of technical barriers to methane hydrate production, such as achieving sufficient flow rates to reduce output costs, known resources could be large enough to meet Japan's demand for about 10 years, based on its confirmation of 40 Tcf of methane hydrate resources in place in the southern Sea of Kumano in 2007.

METI, meanwhile, has requested a budget of Yen 26.3 billion ($242 million) for supporting surveys and developments of oil, natural gas and methane hydrate in Japanese waters in fiscal 2020-21.

-- Takeo Kumagai, takeo.kumagai@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Alisdair Bowles, newsdesk@spglobal.com