Natural gas hydrates represent an immense hydrocarbon resource underlying large portions of the world's arctic continental areas and marine continental shelves. While these deposits ultimately may yield important sources of energy for the world, scientific and engineering research needs to be undertaken to make their production feasible. In addition to these very practical interests, there is mounting evidence that natural gas hydrates have had a very significant role in enhancing the pace of past global climate change through the release of methane, a greenhouse gas some 21 times more active than carbon dioxide. International interest in science and engineering research on natural gas hydrates is at an all-time high.
In this context, an international consortium has been formed to establish a world research site for the study of continental natural gas hydrates in the Mackenzie Delta of northwestern Canadian Arctic. This site, the Mallik gas hydrate field, was discovered through an exploration well drilled by Imperial Oil Ltd. in 1971-1972. In 1998, several of the host organizations of the proponents of the Mallik 2002 proposal collaborated to complete a 1150 m deep scientific research well at the site where the first terrestrial gas hydrate core samples in the world were collected.
With the completion of scientific studies undertaken as part of the 1998 Mallik 2L-38 gas hydrate research well program, a world research site was established for the study of Arctic natural gas hydrates in the Mackenzie Delta of the northwestern Canada. Quantitative well log determinations and core studies revealed at least 10 discrete gas hydrate layers, exceeding 110 m in total thickness, from 890m to 1106 m depth. High gas hydrate saturation values, which in some cases exceeded 80% of the pore volume, establish the Mallik gas hydrate field as one of the most concentrated gas hydrate reservoirs in the world.
In 2002, an expanded consortium with seven international partners will undertake a production research well program that will include the drilling of a 1200 m deep main production research well and two nearby scientific observation wells. Full-scale field experiments will be conducted to monitor the physical response of the gas hydrate deposits to depressurization and thermal production stimulation. The project will cost about $14M and involve over 100 researchers, worldwide. The spud date for the first observation well is expected to be in December, 2001 with completion of the drilling program in early April 2002. A wide ranging science and engineering research program is proposed with extensive geophysics, core studies and long term monitoring of in-situ conditions. The scientific and engineering research objectives for the production research well focus on two themes: (1) the assessment of the production and properties of gas hydrates, and (2) an assessment of the stability of continental gas hydrates given warming trends predicted by climate change models.
Accommodations at the drill site will be extremely limited so only a handful of researchers will be on site during the coring program in late February - early March, collecting critical time dependent information. Cores will be transported 200 kilometres over iceroads to the Inuvik Research Center where up to fifteen researchers will be describing, analyzing and collecting sub-samples of the core for detailed scientific study in research labs around the world.