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Gas Hydrate: A Realistic Future Source of Gas Supply?

August 24, 2009 - 1:00pm


Washington, D.C - A Department of Energy scientist writes in this week's Science magazine that a search is underway for a potentially immense untapped energy resource that, given its global distribution, has the potential to alter existing energy production and supply paradigms.

In the article, Is Gas Hydrate Energy Within Reach?, Dr. Ray Boswell, technology manager for the Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory methane hydrates program, discusses recent findings and new research approaches that are clarifying gas hydrates energy potential.

Driving the current interest in gas hydrate resource appraisal is the focus on that subset of global gas hydrate resources that appear to be the most favorable for production: those that exist at high-concentrations within deeply buried sand-dominated reservoirs.

A recent expedition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)--conducted in partnership with a Chevron-led international consortium, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Minerals Management Service, Columbia University, and others--confirmed that such accumulations do exist in the Gulf of Mexico. Furthermore, that expedition demonstrated the soundness of the team's research approach, which relied on application of the same geological and geophysical methods that guide conventional hydrocarbon exploration.

Looking forward, DOE will focus its efforts on further confirmation of potential resource volumes through dedicated field programs in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, evaluation of gas hydrates role in nature, including carbon cycling and global warming, and the establishment of extended time production tests of gas-hydrate-bearing sand reservoirs. Current research is focused on the depressurization method (akin to the methods now used to produce coalbed methane resources). Another approach involves the injection of carbon dioxide which could displace the methane, leaving the carbon dioxide sequestered within the hydrate structure. This method would not only provide methane as an energy source, but also provide a storage sink for carbon dioxide.

Testing of extraction methods is in the planning stages for sites in Alaska, which will be needed to help prepare for marine production tests, still several years away.

Science magazine is an international publication with the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general-science journal. It is published by AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science), the world's largest general-science society.