Historical methane hydrate project review

Report prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy - National Energy Technology Laboratory, by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership
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In 1995, U.S. Geological Survey made the first systematic assessment of the volume of natural gas stored in the hydrate accumulations of the United States. That study, along with numerous other studies, has shown that the amount of gas stored as methane hydrates in the world greatly exceeds the volume of known conventional gas resources. However, gas hydrates represent both a scientific and technical challenge and much remains to be learned about their characteristics and occurrence in nature. Methane hydrate research in recent years has mostly focused on: (1) documenting the geologic parameters that control the occurrence and stability of gas hydrates in nature, (2) assessing the volume of natural gas stored within various gas hydrate accumulations, (3) analyzing the production response and characteristics of methane hydrates, (4) identifying and predicting natural and induced environmental and climate impacts of natural gas hydrates, and (5) analyzing the effects of methane hydrate on drilling safety.

Methane hydrates are naturally occurring crystalline substances composed of water and gas, in which a solid water-­‐lattice holds gas molecules in a cage-­‐like structure. The gas and water becomes a solid under specific temperature and pressure conditions within the Earth, called the hydrate stability zone. Other factors that control the presence of methane hydrate in nature include the source of the gas included within the hydrates, the physical and chemical controls on the migration of gas with a sedimentary basin containing methane hydrates, the availability of the water also included in the hydrate structure, and the presence of a suitable host sediment or “reservoir”. The geologic controls on the occurrence of gas hydrates have become collectively known as the “methane hydrate petroleum system”, which has become the focus of numerous hydrate research programs.

Recognizing the importance of methane hydrate research and the need for a coordinated effort, the U.S. Congress enacted Public Law 106-­‐193, the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000. This Act called for the Secretary of Energy to begin a methane hydrate research and development program in consultation with other U.S. federal agencies. At the same time a new methane hydrate research program had been launched in Japan by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry to develop plans for a methane hydrate exploratory drilling project in the Nankai Trough. Since this early start we have seen other countries including India, China, Canada, and the Republic of Korea establish large gas hydrate research and development programs. These national led efforts have also included the investment in a long list of important scientific research drilling expeditions and production test studies that have provided a wealth of information on the occurrence of methane hydrate in nature. The most notable expeditions and projects have including the following:

-­‐Ocean Drilling Program Leg 164 (1995)

-­‐Japan Nankai Trough Project (1999-­‐2000)

-­‐Ocean Drilling Program Leg 204 (2004)

-­‐Japan Tokai-­‐oki to Kumano-­‐nada Project (2004)

-­‐Gulf of Mexico JIP Leg I (2005)

-­‐Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 311 (2005)

-­‐Malaysia Gumusut-­‐Kakap Project (2006)

-­‐India NGHP Expedition 01 (2006)

-­‐China GMGS Expedition 01 (2007)

-­‐Republic of Korea UBGH Expedition 01 (2007)

-­‐Gulf of Mexico JIP Leg II (2009)

-­‐Republic of Korea UBGH Expedition 02 (2010)

-­‐MH-­‐21 Nankai Trough Pre-­‐Production Expedition (2012-­‐2013)

-­‐Mallik Gas Hydrate Testing Projects (1998/2002/2007-­‐2008)

-­‐Alaska Mount Elbert Stratigraphic Test Well (2007)

-­‐Alaska Iġnik Sikumi Methane Hydrate Production Test Well (2011-­‐2012)

Research coring and seismic programs carried out by the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) and Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), starting with the ODP Leg 164 drilling of the Blake Ridge in the Atlantic Ocean in 1995, have also contributed greatly to our understanding of the geologic controls on the formation, occurrence, and stability of gas hydrates in marine environments. For the most part methane hydrate research expeditions carried out by the ODP and IODP provided the foundation for our scientific understanding of gas hydrates. The methane hydrate research efforts under ODP-­‐IODP have mostly dealt with the assessment of the geologic controls on the occurrence of gas hydrate, with a specific goal to study the role methane hydrates may play in the global carbon cycle.

Over the last 10 years, national led methane hydrate research programs, along with industry interest have led to the development and execution of major methane hydrate production field test programs. Two of the most important production field testing programs have been conducted at the Mallik site in the Mackenzie River Delta of Canada and in the Eileen methane hydrate accumulation on the North Slope of Alaska. Most recently we have also seen the completion of the world’s first marine methane hydrate production test in the Nankai Trough in the offshore of Japan. Industry interest in gas hydrates has also included important projects that have dealt with the assessment of geologic hazards associated with the presence of hydrates.

The scientific drilling and associated coring, logging, and borehole monitoring technologies developed in the long list of methane hydrate related field studies are one of the most important developments and contributions associated with methane hydrate research and development activities. Methane hydrate drilling has been conducted from advanced scientific drilling platforms like the JOIDES Resolution and the D/V Chikyu, which feature highly advanced integrated core laboratories and borehole logging capabilities. Hydrate research drilling has also included the use of a wide array of industry, geotechnical and multi-­‐service ships. All of which have been effectively used to collect invaluable geologic and engineering data on the occurrence of methane hydrates throughout the world. Technologies designed specifically for the collection and analysis of undisturbed methane hydrate samples have included the development of a host of pressure core systems and associated specialty laboratory apparatus. The study and use of both wireline conveyed and logging-­‐while-­‐drilling technologies have also contributed greatly to our understanding of the in-­‐situ nature of hydrate-­‐bearing sediments. Recent developments in borehole instrumentation specifically designed to monitor changes associated with hydrates in nature through time or to evaluate the response of hydrate accumulations to production have also contributed greatly to our understanding of the complex nature and evolution of methane hydrate systems.

Our understanding of how methane hydrates occur and behave in nature is still growing and evolving – we do not yet know if methane hydrates can be economically produced, nor do we know fully the role of hydrates as an agent of climate change or as a geologic hazard. But it is known for certain that scientific drilling has contributed greatly to our understanding of hydrates in nature and will continue to be a critical source of the information to advance our understanding of methane hydrates.

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Publication type:
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Organization Series
Historical methane hydrate project review
Year Published:
Consortium for Ocean Leadership
Publisher location:
Washington D.C.
Contributing office(s):
Central Energy Resources Science Center
Part 1: 110 p.; Part 2: 32 p.; Part 3: 42 p.