Researchers in the United States say they have come up with a simple new way to prevent the build-up of undersea frozen methane hydrate that can clog the pipes of deep-sea oil and gas wells.
Methane hydrates can freeze upon contact with cold water due to the very high pressure that exists in the deep ocean or beneath the sea floor. Frozen hydrates can form inside an oil or gas well casing, and restrict or even block the flow through the pipes.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say their new method involves covering the pipes with passive coatings designed to prevent frozen hydrates from clinging. Their findings show the coatings they developed reduced the hydrate’s grip to only one-quarter of the adhesion that occurs on untreated surfaces.
The MIT researchers say their method is far simpler, and less costly than the $200 million that oil and gas industries currently spend each year on chemical additives and expensive heating systems to prevent ice build-up in well casings.
The study co-authors say the world’s rapidly increasing energy demands are making deep-sea wells a key source of oil and gas, and so-called “flow assurance” is critical to making deep-water production viable.
Methane hydrate ice severely impeded early efforts to cap the source of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The MIT scientists say an initial attempt to quickly contain the flow of oil from the ruptured deep-sea well quickly failed because the dome placed over the broken pipe almost instantly became clogged with frozen hydrate.
A report on the new MIT research is published in the journal, Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.