The undertaking of methane hydrate field studies in northern Alaska has many practical advantages including a long history of scientific investigation in the area, a wealth of conventional hydrocarbon drilling and production experience, and access to logistics infrastructure. Recognizing the efficiencies of working in the Arctic and that the knowledge gained there can have broad applications to other settings, DOE has supported several field programs to date and is working closely with partners in the hydrocarbon industry to develop a number of new initiatives.
The geologic setting of methane hydrate in the Alaska North Slope is well described with a geothermal environment conditioned by thick occurrences of terrestrial permafrost (Osterkamp and Payne, 1981; Lachenbruch et al., 1988; Clow and Lachenbruch, 1998). Regional studies initiated in the 1980s (Collett, 1993, 1995), based mainly on well-log interpretations and data from a coring project carried out in 1972, indicate that evidence for the occurrence of methane hydrate is most commonly found in the vicinity of the Kuparuk River, Milne Point, and Prudhoe Bay oil fields (Figure 3.1; see also Figure 2.3). Occurrences of methane hydrate are thought to be primarily within coarse-grained clastic sediments often overlying deeper conventional oil and gas occurrences.
Initiated in 2001, this project, managed by BP Exploration Alaska, Inc. (BPXA) with participation of 16 different research groups has had overarching goals to (1) characterize the in-place methane hydrate resource on the Alaska North Slope and (2) conduct field and laboratory studies to evaluate the commercial potential for its production. The focus of the four-phase study (Phases 1, 2, and 3A) has been BPXA’s Milne Point production unit (Figure 3.1). Completion of Phases 1 and 2 (in 2005) resulted in seismic and well-log characterization, structural mapping, and