Final sea trials for the Blue Whale II underwater drilling rig are now underway, according to the technology’s producer, CIMC Raffles, marking a new milestone drilling rig developments.
The Blue Whale I model, completed back in February, and its newer sibling, Blue Whale II, represent the most advanced offshore drilling rigs in the world – ready to tackle water depths of 12,000 feet and drill to a depth of 50,000 feet while extracting fossil fuels.
The Blue Whale I was used to drill methane hydrate from the South China Sea in recent weeks on behalf of the China National Petroleum Corporation. The nearly $1 billion platform is as tall as a 37-story building, the largest oil platform in the world.
Gas hydrate, methane hydrate in particular, is a cage-like structure of crystallized ice, inside of which are trapped molecules of methane, the chief constituent of natural gas. If methane hydrate is either warmed or depressurized, it reverts back to water and natural gas.
China is not the only country that is testing ‘fire ice’ deposits discovered in their waters. Japan, for example, has been studying for years the potential recovery of methane hydrate, and launched last month preparations to carry out a second production test to extract methane gas from gas hydrates with two wells.
The U.S. also has a methane hydrate program to develop technologies that could allow safe methane production from arctic and domestic offshore hydrates. It is unclear whether or not the Blue Whale platform technology has made its way to American researchers studying the extraction of the new fuel from the Earth’s crust.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), global estimates vary, but the energy content of methane in hydrates is “immense, possibly exceeding the combined energy content of all other known fossil fuels”. But no methane production other than small-scale field experiments has been documented so far.
|Zainab Calcuttawala for OilPrice.com|