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DOE to fund 14 research projects on deepwater and Arctic methane hydrates; potential future energy supply

Methane hydrate can form in Arctic and marine environments. Source: DOE. Click to enlarge.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has selected 14 new research projects that will be a part of an expanding portfolio of projects designed to increase the understanding of methane hydrates’ potential as a future energy supply. 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 new research projects are intended to advance understanding of the nature and occurrence of deepwater and Arctic gas hydrates and their implications for future resource development and environmental performance. The selected projects build on the completion of a successful test earlier this year that was able to safely extract a steady flow of natural gas from methane hydrates on the North Slope of Alaska. (Earlier post.)

While prior DOE research and outside studies have confirmed that the methane hydrate resource volume present appears to be substantial and the accumulations that can be explored for and produced using existing technologies are potentially numerous, significant research remains to:

  1. analyze the role of gas hydrates in the natural environment;
  2. demonstrate that gas hydrates can be produced commercially in an environmentally responsible manner; and
  3. further assess resource volumes, particularly in deepwater settings.

These new projects, managed by the Energy Department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, will focus research on field programs for deepwater hydrate characterization, the response of methane hydrate systems to changing climates, and advances in the understanding of gas-hydrate-bearing deposits.

The following projects have been selected for award negotiations:

Characterizing the Affect of Environmental Change on Gas-Hydrate-Bearing Deposits
Lead organization
Description DOE Funding
University of California at San Diego Researchers at the University of California at San Diego will design, build, and test an electromagnetic (EM) system designed for very shallow water use and will apply the system to determine the extent of offshore permafrost on the US Beaufort inner shelf. $507,000
University of Mississippi Using electronic measurements, the researchers will investigate variations in hydrate system dynamics beneath hydrate-bearing mounds on the continental slope of the northern Gulf of Mexico in response to changes in local environmental conditions. $420,000
University of New Hampshire The University of New Hampshire will study the dynamic response of gas hydrate systems and their potential impact on sea-floor stability, ocean ecology, and global climate by reconstructing the paleo-positions of certain parameters related to the release of methane at three sites on the Cascadia margin. $118,000
Oregon State University Oregon State University will generate computer models that will enable researchers to interpret modern-day releases of methane into the atmosphere – or methane fluxes - and reconstruct past episodes of methane flux in gas hydrate-bearing regions from shallow geochemical data. $89,000
Southern Methodist University Researchers at Southern Methodist University will conduct numerical modeling, field data collection, and extensive laboratory analyses to characterize the state of the upper boundary of pressures and temperatures where gas hydrates are in a stable form on the Alaskan Beaufort continental slope. $1,118,000
The University of Texas at Austin The project at the University of Texas at Austin will develop conceptual and numerical models to analyze conditions under which gas will be expelled from existing marine accumulations of gas hydrate into the ocean, which could potentially have a damaging effect to the ecosystem. $1,176,000
Fundamental Properties of Gas Hydrate-bearing Sediments
Lead organization
Description DOE Funding
Colorado School of Mines The School of Mines will conduct a series of laboratory experiments to determine how methane hydrate can be detected using seismic methods with the goal of increasing the reliability and accuracy of seismic readings in methane hydrates. $225,000
Georgia Tech Research Corporation The research to be conducted by Georgia Tech will advance the understanding of the behavior of gas hydrates hosted in fine-grained sediments such as clay or silt, and will evaluate extraction methods relevant to the potential to produce gas from such sediments. $626,000
Wayne State University Wayne State’s proposed research will advance scientific understanding of parameters used to represent capillary pressure and relative permeability in the numerical simulation of hydrate dissociation and gas production. $178,000
Marine Gas Hydrate Characterization
Lead organization
Description DOE Funding
Consortium for Ocean Leadership The consortium will coordinate scientific input and develop plans for future marine hydrate expeditions to conduct research drilling, recovering samples of the formation, logging and analytical activities to assess the geologic occurrence, regional context, and characteristics of methane hydrate deposits along the continental margins of the United States, likely focusing on the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic margin. $160,000
Fugro GeoConsulting, Inc. Fugro GeoConsulting has been selected for two projects for a total of $591,000 to develop plans for a pressure coring program at locations in the Walker Ridge 313 and Green Canyon 955 areas of the Gulf of Mexico and to develop analytical techniques that help better identify the existence of methane hydrate accumulations. The first project will focus on preparing detailed scientific and operational plans and recommendations for all aspects of a future offshore drilling, determining the hydrate deposit characteristics through electronic measurement, and recovering samples of hydrate under pressure so its characteristics may be more closely studied. The second project, which will receive $147,000, will develop techniques to generate more robust and reliable information on methane hydrate accumulations, including analyzing seismic data to determine how they interact with free gas accumulations. $591,000
The Ohio State University Ohio State University will conduct research in collaboration with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to increase our understanding of the occurrence, volume and distribution of natural gas hydrates in the northern Gulf of Mexico using more than 1,700 petroleum industry well logs that penetrate the gas hydrate stability zone, or the offshore depths and locations where gas hydrates flourish. $286,000
Oklahoma State University The research proposed by Oklahoma State will help to further develop an understanding of the structural and geologic controls on hydrate occurrence and distribution in Walker Ridge 313 and Green Canyon 955 using new techniques to interpret gas hydrate occurrences in existing seismic data, along with well data collected during prior Energy Department research efforts at those sites. $96,000




I guess it's better to burn it and turn it into CO2 than to just lets it escape to the atmosphere because of rising polar temperatures. Lesser of 2 evils.


Given that there is as much Methane Hydrate than all the other fossil energies all together if we start to tap into this we will be cooked. You can send the CO2 in 1000ppm easy and even more.


Just don't let it suddenly get away from you when extracting it.

Roger Pham

Wait a minute! We don't have an energy shortage. There are plenty of shale gas and coal left to be burned. What we do have is a global warming and climate change crisis, and how is this gonna help the situation? Is the DOE trying to make the earth into Jurassic Park 2 and bring back the dinosaurs?

What we should be doing is to slow down fossil fuel consumption while ramping up renewable energy collectors. We are not doing enough of that.


First we start with high pressure methane, then we transition to cold-fusion generated H2.. easy peasy!


Cold fusion will likely happen. Right now, the energy yield is not there. One thing's for sure. So long as fossil fuel cartels run the means of energy production, there won't be any REAL R&D into it.

Time to kick those creeps to the curb.


Yes the climate warms up, many mid-west States farmers will have to move to northern Canada (with the exception of the very large areas where Tar Sands operation took place)**. They will be welcomed because they are exactly what Canada needs.

** By the way, a small research company has recently demonstrated a new technology to effectively remove 98.8% of the tar/oil from tailling ponds while supply clean hot water for adjacent tar sand operations. The only barrier is the net $1 to $2/barrel cost. Tax payers will be called to pay because Big Oil will not pay for it. They (Big Oil and naysayers) claim that the tailling ponds smell good and are good for the environment?


By the way, an EU Research Group claims that, if the current climate change and CO2 increases are maintained, edible food production will continue to be negatively affected and food prices could double or more by the end of the decade or soon thereafter.

The lower and middle classes (the 97%) will have to use a much larger portion of their available income to feed their family.

Will we have a famine spring next?

What will happen to the cost and production of corn grain ethanol?

Can the world curtail the use of fossil and bio-fuels?

Will the increasing evaporation of methane in the Arctic regions compound the overall effect?


Tapping this energy source and reducing the risk of it ever escaping does not have to mean increasing atmospheric CO2.

One of the reasons for increasing the proportion of (transport and other) energy being consumed as electricity is to optionally use centralised power stations with Carbon Capture and Storage.

I agree it would be great to see more progress on renewable conversion, but the goal is maximising the benefits across all available resources.

Developing and Installing CCS into the new energy consuming growth economies is one of the most effective mitigations for our own CO2 production. It is also good (green) business and involves consuming more fossil fuels not less.

Anyway I haven't quite given up on the idea that re-releasing stored CO2 could be a lifesaver when the current interglacial warming ends :-)

Roger Pham

CCS isn't cheap. If you add the cost of CCS to the cost of fossil fuels, then renewable energy may be cheaper even now. Just imagine the cost of building CO2 pipelines everywhere and even to the artic where they plan to use the CO2 to drive out the methane from the hydrate.

And don't worry, with the rate that CO2 is being released into the atmosphere, we will more like be cooked, or starved due to crop failures rather than reaching another ice age. There will not be another ice age!!!


That's rather a sweeping statement.


How far along are CO2-to-fuel projects?


You guys don't get it. Renewables don't have to be cheaper than fossil based fuels for the world to change. The world has ALREADY changed. It's not "business-as-usual" anymore because the cost of oil, domestic or otherwise, is just too high. The fact that they are even entertaining methane ice and fracking and CCS and all that other nonsense is because readily available sources of oil are nearly gone, if not gone already. Peak oil has come and gone. the patient is dead but the doctors just won't accept it. These "extraordinary measures" will not make energy cheaper. They are merely mitigating the end of the petro-chemical economy....but it's in it's death throes unfortunately. If we don't invest in renewables like yesterday, we'll be a third world nation living in an Amish paradise. That's not chicken Little talk. That's a fact.

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