Ikhil: we've got ignition
Crew hits gas at 1,100 metres down, flares it for test

by Glenn Taylor
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Mar 20/97) - "It's quite spectacular in the evening," says Jim Herbert.

The Ikhil project manager is talking about a 12-metre flame flaring from the drill site. Fed by natural gas from a reservoir more than 1,100 metres below, the flame is a symbol of success that, so far at least, the Ikhil testing program is on the money.

The crew has been testing the gas pressure since last Sunday, to determine how much gas is down below, and whether there's enough to fuel Inuvik into the 21st century.

There was some concern the project had hit a wall a few weeks ago, when drillers discovered a section of the casing in the well had been seriously damaged. Herbert said he was concerned at the time with corrosion, which could have signalled that the casing could not endure a gas test.

That would have meant abandoning the $1.5-million program.

Instead, the crew found permafrost pressures had warped the casing, and it was not a serious problem. The casing integrity was determined to be good enough to withstand the tests.

Drilling continued until last Saturday night, when the rig reached 1,150 metres. At that point, an explosive charge called a perforating gun was lowered down the hold and set off at the bottom by remote control.

The explosion perforated the casing like a screen door, allowing the gas to flow up to the surface at a pressure of about 1,250 pounds per square inch.

The Ikhil crew will do 240 hours of testing around the clock to determine how large the Ikhil reservoir is. The well will then be shut down and closed with cement and steel plugs before the wellhead is removed. For the moment, a two-man crew monitors the test with a simple Pentium notebook computer.

It's a quieter time at the site now. Only 13 workers remain from the original crew of 22. Many have gone home for a few days for a little relaxation before returning to help with the shut down. Cold weather and high winds have made working on the site miserable the last few days, however.

It's too early at this point to know whether Ikhil is as big as billed. If it is, IPC chair Russell Newmark said that a project to build a pipeline to Inuvik will get under way soon.

The deal hinges on a lot of things, including an agreement with NWT Power Corporation, the largest potential user of the gas, at least initially. But everything ultimately relies on the gas. If there's enough there, Newmark is confident the wheels will turn favorably.