WASHINGTON, D.C. —The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced the selection of a multi-year, field-based research project designed to gain further insight into the nature, formation, occurrence and physical properties of methane hydrate‐bearing sediments for the purpose of methane hydrate resource appraisal.

Since the passage of the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000, the DOE has led a coordinated national methane hydrate research and development (R&D) program in collaboration with six other federal agencies, universities, industry, and international R&D programs.   The DOE program mission is to advance the scientific understanding of naturally occurring methane hydrate so that its resource potential and environmental implications can be fully understood.

Methane hydrate — natural gas trapped in an ice-like cage of water molecules — occurs in both terrestrial and marine environments.  Terrestrial deposits have been found in sediments within and beneath permafrost in Arctic regions, such as on the North Slope in Alaska.  Prior programs in Alaska have explored gas hydrate reservoir potential and alternative production strategies, and additional testing programs are in development. While not part of this announcement, DOE intends to further evaluate production methods on terrestrial methane hydrate deposits in Alaska.

Marine gas hydrates occur in shallow sediments in deepwater settings along the continental margins.  Prior marine investigations, primarily through the DOE-supported Gulf of Mexico Joint Industry Partnership’s (JIP), confirmed methods for safe drilling in hydrate-bearing sediments (Leg I expedition in 2005) and documented the occurrence of high-quality gas hydrate reservoirs in areas of the Gulf of Mexico such as Green Canyon and Walker Ridge (Leg II expedition in 2009). However, significant research remains to better define resource volumes and accurately assess the production potential of methane hydrates in deepwater settings.

The objectives of the marine gas hydrate program are to:  (1) collect a full suite of in situ measurements and core samples to characterize the physical properties of marine methane hydrates; (2) assess their potential response to possible production activities; and (3) further delineate the occurrence and nature of gas hydrates in the U.S. outer continental shelf.  This new project, managed by the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, has been selected to achieve these objectives and is the next logical step in assessing marine hydrate sediments:

  • The University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas) — The University of Texas at Austin, along with The Ohio State University, Columbia University-Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, and the U.S. Geological Survey, will characterize and prioritize known and prospective drilling locations with a high probability of encountering concentrated methane hydrates in sand-rich reservoirs. A focused drilling program will acquire conventional cores, pressure cores, and downhole logs; will measure in situ properties; and will measure reservoir response to short-duration pressure perturbations.  The field campaign will offer an ideal opportunity to deploy and test several coring and hydrate characterization tools developed through previous DOE-supported research efforts. Post-cruise analyses will determine the in situ concentrations, the physical properties, the lithology, and the thermodynamic state of methane hydrate bearing sand reservoirs.  The field data collected and analyzed will strengthen our ability to estimate the occurrence and distribution of marine hydrates and lay the groundwork needed to simulate production behavior from sand-rich reservoirs. (DOE Funding: $41,270,609; Cost Share: $17,030,884; Duration: 48 months)