ANCHORAGE (AP) Anadarko Petroleum Corp. has begun drilling a gas hydrate well south of Kuparuk. It is the first time anyone has purposefully drilled a well on the North Slope seeking methane hydrates, or natural gas trapped in frozen ground.
The platform the company is using is also a first.
Anadarko is testing a prototype Arctic platform that sits on legs above the tundra, much like an offshore drilling rig. The platform is built of modular sections designed to be assembled in different configurations.
Mark Hanley, Anadarko's public affairs manager for Alaska, said late last year that with exploratory drilling moving further from Prudhoe Bay, we want to do something that decreases the impact on the environment and potentially allows us to extend the drilling season, which is critical, because it's getting shorter and shorter.''
Bill Fowler, Anadarko's Houston-based environmental supervisor, said relying on ice roads and ice drilling pads for exploration has limited oil and gas exploration on the North Slope.
Anadarko looked at the challenges and went to Keith Millheim, the company's Houston-based manager of operations technology, for answers.
Those ideas are being tested now.
Fowler said the gas hydrate project, Hot Ice,'' a research project for which Anadarko has some U.S. Department of Energy funding, is a good test of the Arctic platform because it's a shallower well 3,000 to 3,500 feet deep, about half the depth of conventional exploration.
So we can use a smaller rig and then we can test a scaled down version of this ... concept,'' Fowler said.
The prototype in place on the North Slope used 21 modules, each 50 by 12 1/2 feet, and 50 legs, Hanley said this month.
Connected to it by a gangway is the camp, with custom-built camp modules. Modules for the camp are larger, 60 by 12 1/2 feet.
The modules were transported to the drilling site using rolligons, large-tired vehicles that put little pressure on the tundra.
Hanley said there was some prep work required at the site, and then it took all of February to get the holes drilled, the pilings put up and the modules put in place.
Most of March was spent getting the rig on top of the platform and the camp and testing modules in place.
There were some days when they couldn't work because of the weather, Hanley said.
Assembly will be quicker in the future: It's a prototype,'' he said. Even aside from weather days, we'll be able to shorten it next time.''
Anadarko is using a mining coring rig because the hydrate well won't be as deep and will be continuously cored.
The company anticipates that it using a big brother'' of this rig for traditional drilling. The platform for that would be larger, Hanley said. The prototype was sized for the smaller rig.
Augers were used to drill holes for the legs, and cranes and forklifts also were required, Hanley said. Anadarko tested different cranes in assembling the prototype and put down a small ice pad to be able to test various types of equipment.
The gas hydrate test well was begun April 1, Hanley said, and drilling will take two to three weeks.
Once drilling is complete, he said, the platform will be safely suspended and Anadarko workers will go back later, complete the well and test it.
The platform will stay in Alaska, but Hanley said the company doesn't know whether it will move the platform to a new prospect next winter or put it in storage.
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