Researchers at the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) were part of an international team, including the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), that contributed to a newly released report explaining the prospect of gas hydrates as a potential worldwide energy source that can contribute in the transition to the low-carbon energy systems of the future.
Frozen Heat: A Global Outlook on Methane Hydrates details the science and history of gas hydrates, evaluates the current state of gas hydrate research, and explores the potential impacts of gas hydrates on the future global energy mix. Gas hydrates contain an immense quantity of methane gas—a fossil fuel that, when combusted, emits up to 40 percent less carbon dioxide than coal and 20 percent less than oil. According to the report, there may be regions in the world that realize meaningful production of natural gas from gas hydrates in the next 10 to 20 years.
One of the Outlook’s editors, Ray Boswell of NETL’s Strategic Center for Natural Gas and Oil, explained that the laboratory has been investigating this resource and the environmental implications of gas hydrates as part of the Energy Department’s all-of-the-above energy strategy and to improve our understanding of ongoing climate change.
Gas hydrates are combinations of methane and water that form naturally and in great quantities in geologic environments where there are low temperatures and relatively high pressures. Boswell said interest in gas hydrates is accelerating throughout the world..
In the United States, gas hydrates are confirmed to exist in great quantities onshore on Alaska’s North Slope and underneath the seabed throughout the Outer Continental Shelf where water depth exceeds 500 meters. In the Gulf of Mexico alone, more than 6,000 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of gas is estimated to occur within the most promising gas hydrate accumulations, according to recent estimates by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). These estimates were supported by a successful 2009 scientific drilling program in the Gulf of Mexico conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy in collaboration with an industry consortium, the U.S. Geological Survey, BOEM, and others.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States consumed 26.79 Tcf of natural gas in 2014 and is projected to consume 31.63 Tcf by 2040.
The report stresses the need for a stronger foundation in science to assess mitigation of any environmental impact from development. The report’s findings also complement NETL’s current priorities for hydrate science and technology development, which include establishing a long-term field testing site in Alaska and conducting further scientific evaluation and sampling of gas hydrates in the U.S. offshore.