Mine owners seek natural gas in shale

Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Teck Cominco Alaska Inc. said it plans to drill two natural gas test wells this summer near its Red Dog lead-zinc mine.

If the wells yield results, the company would drill three more test wells at the site in 2004. The mine is 90 miles north of Kotzebue.

The project will eventually involve about 14 wells drilled into gas-bearing shale deposits, Charlotte MacCay, the company's environmental affairs manager, told a state legislative committee in a recent mining industry briefing.

Natural gas is known to exist in shale deposits near the mine, MacCay said. The question is whether enough gas can flow from the shale for commercial production, she said.

Shale-gas wells are similar to the coal-bed gas wells being drilled in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough by Evergreen Resources Inc.

In the case of Red Dog, the presence of gas became known after it was detected in shallow mineral tests being drilled by the drilling units used to drill cores in ore deposits, the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported.

If gas can be produced it could replace diesel as the primary fuel for power generation at the mine, MacCay said. Teck Cominco now imports about 18 million gallons of diesel a year.

Using gas could reduce energy costs and the environmental hazards of barging and trucking the diesel to the mine, and it also would reduce air pollution from the mine power plant, MacCay said. Burning gas instead of diesel would reduce 90 percent of the sulfur dioxide released into the air at Red Dog, 90 percent of the particulates and 60 percent of the nitrogen oxide, she said.

The company will build a temporary one-mile gravel road to the site for the first two wells this summer, according to documents filed with the state Division of Governmental Coordination.

If the tests are successful, the road would be extended another mile to the location for the second three wells in 2004. If the tests are unsuccessful the temporary road would be removed, the company said.

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