Encounter puts Ikhil in jeopardy
Blockage in well might force cancellation of gas test

by Glenn Taylor
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Feb 27/97) - "Things look fairly positive," says the project manager of the Ikhil gas well. But Monday afternoon, some workers were speculating the project might be a total loss.

Jim Herbert of the Inuvialuit Petroleum Corporation said he would find out yesterday whether the $1.5-million project would have to be abandoned.

The problems began, according to Herbert, while re-entering the old well. Drillers hit a major obstruction that wasn't on any charts.

The obstruction stopped the drill bit cold, and special tungsten replacement bits had to be flown in from Calgary to try to bite through what appeared at first to be waste metal that had been thrown down the hole, said Herbert.

The blockage starts 69 metres from the surface, down to about 102 metres.

"We're looking down a hole a hundred metres away and trying to guess what's down there," said Herbert.

The drilling crew finally cut through the block and were 451 metres below the surface at press time. But it's still very tight between 68 and 102 metres, said Herbert.

What could be causing the blockage -- and here's what could kill the project -- is that the casing from the old well has corroded and collapsed. If that's the case, said Herbert, the well test may have to be abandoned.

Corroded or collapsed casing won't stand up to the pressures of a gas test, and the National Energy Board will not approve any tests if the integrity of the hole is not ensured, he said.

The obstruction has put the project four days behind schedule, and a trouble-shooter -- a fisherman -- was called in a day early to figure out what to do about the problem, said Herbert.

Special computerized measuring equipment was being lowered down the hole at press time to determine what the problem is. This equipment will measure the thickness and integrity of the casing inside.

Those results, expected yesterday, would determine the fate of the test. As long as the casing is okay, the project can likely continue, said Herbert.

Ikhil was first drilled in 1986 by Gulf Canada, which was fishing for a world-class natural gas reservoir. A 45-minute test showed Ikhil was small by industry standards and Gulf abandoned the hole.

Inuvialuit Petroleum has a more modest plan for the project, however. It reopened the hole Feb. 20, hoping to confirm Ikhil is large enough to warrant a pipeline linking Inuvik's power generators to the cheap gas.

"We're relying on a test that was done for 45 minutes 12 years ago," said Herbert. "We need better information than that."

If all goes well, drilling can continue to the 1,130-metre mark, where the reservoir is expected. Two weeks of testing will then be conducted, to determine how much gas is there. Equipment will remain on site after the rig is removed, to further study the site.

It's all still up in the air, but Herbert is confident the drill will meet with success. "They won't let me leave until I get the job done," he said.