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US and Japan successfully complete Arctic field trial of gas hydrate production technology using CO2-methane exchange within structure

Conceptual rendering of CO2 – CH4 exchange methodology for the production of natural gas from hydrates. Source: NETL. Click to enlarge.

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the completion of a successful test of technology in the North Slope of Alaska that was able to safely extract a steady flow of natural gas from methane hydrates. Methane hydrates are 3D ice-lattice structures with natural gas locked inside, and are found both onshore and offshore—including under the Arctic permafrost and in ocean sediments along nearly every continental shelf in the world.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) partnered with ConocoPhillips and the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) on the test, which was the first field trial of a methane hydrate production methodology whereby CO2 was exchanged in situ with the methane molecules within a methane hydrate structure. The production technology was developed through laboratory collaboration between the University of Bergen, Norway, and ConocoPhillips.

Observations about the process made during laboratory testing include:

  • Rapid rates of CO2-CH4 exchange in hydrates formed in porous media under a range of initial conditions;

  • The efficiency of the carbon dioxide displacing the methane from the hydrate structure approaches theoretical limits;

  • The preservation of measurable permeability in the porous media during hydrate formation and exchange; and, most importantly,

  • The exchange process does not involve the release of free water to the pore system.Instead, the process appears to dissociate and re-form hydrate at very fast rates and on a micro-scale in such a manner that there is no free water formed or significant heat-of-reaction issues.

As part of this exchange demonstration, the depressurization phase of the test extended for 30 days. The prior longest-duration field test of methane hydrate extraction via depressurization was six days (Japan-Canada 2007/2008 Mallik well testing program).

Building upon this initial, small-scale test, the US Department of Energy (DOE) is launching a new research effort to conduct a long-term production test in the Arctic as well as research to test additional technologies that could be used to locate, characterize and safely extract methane hydrates on a larger scale in the US Gulf Coast.

The Energy Department’s long term investments in shale gas research during the 70s and 80s helped pave the way for today’s boom in domestic natural gas production that is projected to cut the cost of natural gas by 30 percent by 2025 while creating thousands of American jobs. While this is just the beginning, this research could potentially yield significant new supplies of natural gas.

—Secretary Chu

The ongoing, proof-of-concept test commenced on 15 February 2012, and concluded on 10 April. The team injected a mixture of carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen into the formation, and demonstrated that this mixture could promote the production of natural gas. Ongoing analyses of the extensive datasets acquired at the field site will be needed to determine the efficiency of simultaneous CO2 storage in the reservoirs.

This testing will provide critical information to advance DOE’s efforts to evaluate various potential gas hydrate production technologies. The next stages of the Department’s research effort will be aimed in part at evaluating gas hydrate production over longer durations, likely through depressurization, with the eventual goal of making sustained production economically viable.

A New Research Effort. DOE announced two major new steps in the overall methane hydrate research effort:

  1. DOE is making $6.5 million available in Fiscal Year 2012 Funding Opportunity Announcement for research into technologies to locate, characterize and safely extract natural gas from methane hydrate formations like those in the Arctic and along the US Gulf Coast.

    Specifically, projects will address (1) deepwater gas hydrate characterization via direct sampling and/or remote sensing field programs; (2) new tools and methods for monitoring, collecting, and analyzing data to determine reservoir response and environmental impacts related to methane hydrate production; and (3) clarifying methane hydrates role in the environment, including responses to warming climates.

  2. As part of the President’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013, the Department is requesting an additional $5 million to further gas hydrates research both domestically, and in collaboration with international partners. The exact nature of that research effort will be determined in the coming months; however, a longer duration test of methane hydrate extraction on the North Slope on an existing gravel bed pad that can accommodate year-round operations is envisioned. Such an effort would again require engaging private sector and international partners.




This might be the end of the electric car, the solar energy and wind mills for another 100 you sequester CO2, hard to beat


Nonsense Treehugger. CO2 capture is far from low cost. The total cost of delivery of CO2 to the site plus shipping back the methane. It should be well over twice the price of fracked gas. We may want to consider doing it however if CO2 is in fact a greenhouse gas. And even if it isn't, most have agree that climate change is real. They want to deny the cause is human, but the cause is irrelevant since if the globe warms methane from hydrates will increasingly be released and we know that methane is worse than CO2 with regard to warming. So it's possible to reach a global temperature that increases the emission of gases that increase temperature. A nice little feedback loop. But, maybe that won't happen. And it probably doesn't matter the certain thing is that humans have a high probability of destroying their own existence somehow. It's really just how long that will take. However, it is inevitable. Infinite growth is always ultimately destructive.


Good observation BK4. Will it take 100 or 200 more years before the warming cycle runs out of hand?

Roger Pham

Global warming wise, whether or not to extract the methane out of the methane hydrate should depend on to what extent human can affect global warming.

If we can control and reverse global warming to keep the earth cool enough to prevent the spontaneous release of methane from the now-frozen methane hydrate, then we should leave the frozen methane hydrate alone. We can deploy massive numbers of solar and wind energy collectors as well as nuclear plants to provide energy instead, and use BEV's and H2-V and synthetic methane for transportation.

If we cannot do anything to stop the warming trend, then we should extract all the methane from the frozen hydrate and convert it to CO2, since CO2 gas has lower GHG index than methane. If we can sequester this CO2, though I don't know where, it would be much better.

Roger Pham

OK, I see how to sequester the CO2 now! Pump the CO2 in to displace the methane out. Quite clever and a CO2-neutral way of obtaining energy!


This is all good to keep in the back of our heads, but until gas prices recover I don't think any firm is going to want to get into this without massive government incentives. Since August of last year wholesale gas prices have dropped 50% to about $2/mmbtu(Inside FERCs gas market report) and continues to head south. Unless this changes, this should also put the brakes on the gas drilling bonanza.


I've seen claims that there are signs of methane emissions from arctic hydrates which suggest that the positive feedback loop is working NOW.

The Anthropocene Thermal Maximum is already under way.


My post was mainly provocative, even if the technique works it won't be that easy to carry CO2 to the arctic and bring back massive amount of CH4, natural gaz is notoriously expensive to transport on long distances.

Sean Prophet

When in a hole, stop digging. When a clathrate gun is pointed at your head, don't pull the trigger. As E-P said, we're already in positive feedback territory. Even if CO2 is sequestered by this project, more is released upon combustion of the methane. Every new method of extracting carbon from below the surface and dumping it into the atmosphere is bad, bad news for the human race. Because it displaces non-carbon forms of energy as a long term investment, it locks in decades of temperature rises. Foolish and suicidal.

Roger Pham

This kind of research should concentrate more on quantitating the rate of methane release from the artic. The info will then be plugged into the climate computer model in order to see how much time human has got left, and what measures to do now to stop global warming the fastest way possible. This is no time to focus on more extraction of fossil fuels.
By the time we get to understand how to extract methane from underground hydrate and build the CO2 and NG pipeline, it would take decades and would be too late!

Meanwhile, renewable energy is getting cheaper and cheaper by the year, yet there is no concerted effort to coordinate all these developments into one cohesive plan to build collectors, infrastructures such as energy storage and delivery means for stored renewable energy, etc. No comprehensive plan to convert the entire transportation sector into renewable energy utilization. That will create far more jobs than the few thousands jobs created by NG fracking today.

Once the positive feedback is in full force, there may be no turning back.


Oh please!.. just place a partial sun shade at the Earth-Sun L1 orbit.. power the rockets with methane :)

Sheez!, you people need to have more faith in science.


One has to wonder what the EROEI would be for such a project. I'm just guessing here but I'd imagine that the deposits have to be fractured and drilled horizontally to increase contact area. Capturing CO2 is rather energy intensive, even in an oxy-fuel plant. Piping both CO2 and methane is also rather energy intensive. At the end of the day, I'd imagine that natural gas prices would have to be in the $15-20/mcf to justify drilling for gas hydrates. Last time natural gas was $15/mcf, power prices were ~$85-110/MW/hr. If power prices were that high today, solar panels would be literally flying off of the shelves at their current prices.


If you followed things better you would know BOTH sides of the climate debate appear to have been very wrong... As I expected all along.

We should prolly tap the deposits to make sure they dont release anyway in case humans arnt effecting climate enough to stop what is happening.


It might be feasible to generate CO2 on the spot, either by reforming part of the CH4 to hydrogen and re-injecting the CO2, or using e.g. SOFCs to make electricity and export the electricity.

Producing methane and leaving the carbon in the ground is a big win.


Methane is a powerful GHG. Even without drilling, lots of it will be emitted as Northern tundra areas warm up. We may get a very difficult to control snowball effect before the end of the current century.

Will dinosaurs like creatures come back?

One pound mosquitos could be a problem to manage.

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