The US Department of Energy (DOE) said it will support 14 new research projects in 11 states for its methane hydrates research program.
Methane hydrates are 3D ice-lattice structures found both offshore and onshore with natural gas locked inside. For example, they occur under the Arctic permafrost and in ocean sediments along nearly every continental shelf in the world. Earlier this year, a test on the North Slope of Alaska achieved a steady flow of natural gas from methane hydrates.
Prior energy department 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, the DOE said. However, significant research remains ahead to analyze the role of gas hydrates in the natural environment, to demonstrate that gas hydrates can be produced commercially in an environmentally responsible manner, and to assess resource volumes further, particularly those in deep water.
The new projects will be managed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory and will focus 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 were selected for award negotiations:
- Characterizing the Affect of Environmental Change on Gas-Hydrate-Bearing Deposits—Researchers at the University of California at San Diego will design, build, and test an electromagnetic 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. The DOE investment is USD 507,000, and the project duration is 36 months.
- Using electronic measurements, researchers at the University of Mississippi 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. The DOE investment is USD 420,000, and the project duration is 12 months.
- The University of New Hampshire will study the dynamic response of gas hydrate systems and their potential effect on seafloor 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. The DOE investment is USD 118,000, and the project duration is 12 months.
- Oregon State University will generate computer models that will enable researchers to interpret modern-day releases of methane into the atmosphere (methane fluxes) and reconstruct past episodes of methane flux in gas-hydrate-bearing regions from shallow geochemical data. The DOE investment is USD 89,000 and the project duration is 12 months.
- 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. The DOE investment is USD 1,118,000, and the project duration is 36 months.
- A project at the University of Texas 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. The DOE investment is USD 1,176,000, and the project duration is 36 months.
- The Colorado School of Mines will study the fundamental properties of gas-hydrate-bearing sediments 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. The DOE investment is USD 225,000, and the project duration is 12 months.
- Georgia Tech Research Corporation will advance the understanding of the behavior of gas hydrates held in fine-grained sediments such as clay or silt and will evaluate extraction methods relevant to the potential to produce gas from such sediments. The DOE investment is USD 626,000, and the project duration is 36 months.
- Wayne State University’s proposed research will advance scientific understanding of parameters used to present capillary pressure and relative permeability in the numerical simulation of hydrate dissociation and gas production. The DOE investment is USD 178,000, and the project duration is 24 months.
- The Consortium for Ocean Leadership in Washington, D.C., will study marine gas hydrate characterization. It will coordinate scientific input and develop plans for future marine hydrate expeditions to conduct research drilling, recovering samples of the formations, 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. The DOE investment is USD 160,000, and the project duration is 12 months.
- Fugro GeoConsulting has been selected for two projects for a total of USD 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 USD 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. The project duration is 12 months.
- Ohio State University will conduct research in collaboration with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to increase 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. The DOE investment is USD 286,000, and the project duration is 36 months.
- The research proposed by Oklahoma State University 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 DOE research efforts at those sites. The DOE investment is USD 96,000, and the project duration is 12 months.