December 10, 2003
Natural Gas May Be Extractable From Ocean Gas Hydrates

Natural gas can be produced from gas hydrates on the bottom of the ocean.

For the first time, an international research program involving the Department of the Interior's U.S. Geological Survey has proven that it is technically feasible to produce gas from gas hydrates. Gas hydrates are a naturally occurring "ice-like" combination of natural gas and water that have the potential to be a significant new source of energy from the world's oceans and polar regions.

Today at a symposium in Japan, the successful results of the first modern, fully integrated production testing of gas hydrates are being discussed by an international gathering of research scientists. The international consortium, including the USGS, the Department of Energy, Canada, Japan, India, Germany, and the energy industry conducted test drilling at a site known as Mallik, in the Mackenzie Delta of the Canadian Arctic. This location was chosen because it has one of the highest concentrations of known gas hydrates in the world.

The United States is committed to participating in international research programs such as this one to advance the understanding of natural gas hydrates and the development of these resources. Even though gas hydrates are known to occur in numerous marine and Arctic settings, little was known before the Mallik project about the technology necessary to produce gas hydrates.

The successful results from this research form the world's most detailed scientific information about the occurrence and production characteristics of gas hydrates.

The estimated amount of natural gas in the gas hydrate accumulations of the world greatly exceeds the volume of all known conventional gas resources. While gas hydrates hold great potential as an "environmentally-friendly" fuel for the 21st Century, the technical challenges of realizing them as a resource are substantial. Additional research is required to understand and develop new techniques to quantify their distribution in nature.

Depressurization and thermal heating experiments at the Mallik site were extremely successful. The results demonstrated that gas can be produced from gas hydrates with different concentrations and characteristics, exclusively through pressure stimulation. The data supports the interpretation that the gas hydrates are much more permeable and conducive to flow from pressure stimulation than previously thought. In one test, the gas production rates were substantially enhanced by artificially fracturing the reservoir.

So how big a deal is this as compared to other fossil fuels energy sources? Gas hydrates reserves estimates vary quite a bit. But some of the estimates are pretty high.

There may be twice as much energy in gas hydrates than in all other fossil fuels combined.

The technology may take between 10 and 15 years to develop, but will help us tap gas hydrate reserves, estimated to be "more than double the known reserves of fossil fuel," said C.N.R.Rao, Founder and Honorary President of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, and A.Kuznetsov, Director, Institute of Inorganic Chemistry, in Russia.

That comparison to other fossil fuels includes coal in the comparison.

Interest in hydrate E&P has soared in recent years because of growing evidence that more hydrocarbon exists in hydrate deposits than the combined oil, gas and coal reserves worldwide. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency in its just-released Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends, "Recovery of only 1% of hydrates would more than double the domestic gas resource base." A report from Ocean Drilling Program Leg 164, which investigated the huge Blake Ridge offshore the Carolinas, estimated U.S. methane hydrate reserves at 200,000 Tcf.

That really puts gas hydrates in the big leagues because there is an enormous amount of fossil fuel energy stored in coal.

There is orders of magnitude more natural gas in hydrates than in conventional natural gas reserves.

The estimate was refined in 1997 to a more conservative 200,000 trillion cubic feet. Even this lower estimate is significant when compared to the 1,400 trillion cubic feet in the nation's conventional gas reserves. On a world-wide basis, it is estimated that methane hydrate reserves are 400 million trillion cubic feet, compared with 5,000 trillion feet in known gas reserves.

Well, there may not be enough hydrocarbons available to bring on global warming from conventional fossil fuels reserves. But if the technology to extract methane gas hydrates can be made cost-effective then humanity might need to refrain from using as much fossil fuel as it can burn.

In one science fiction novel whose title escapes me (anyone remember the story?) some event (nukes exploded on the ocean floor by accident or by terrorists?) caused all the gas hydrates to come to the surface and this caused an enormous hot house effect that melted all the ice and let lose massive hurricanes (or am I mixing up different science fiction novels? they all blend together after a while). The point here is that it would be a bad thing if all the gas hydrates came to the surface in an incontrolled manner. They constitute a pretty large amount of hydrocarbons.

Update: MIT's Technology Review has an article covering pretty much the same ground as covered in the other links above.

As a source for natural gas, hydrate today is about where coal bed methane was 15 years ago, says Michael Max, a hydrate expert formerly with the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. “Coal bed methane was a classic, unconventional gas play,” with more than a few doubters, Max says. “Now it supplies around eight percent of the U.S natural gas supply. We think hydrate has a similar trajectory.”

Natural gas frm hydrates may well become a much higher percentage of the total energy mix if oil field production starts to decline within 10 years as some predict.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 December 10 11:46 PM  Energy Fossil Fuels

jb said at December 11, 2003 5:34 AM:

I haven't read it, but the book you're describing sounds like "Mother of Storms"

Bob Hawkins said at December 11, 2003 8:34 AM:

We need to recover and destroy all that methane before it destroys us! BURN METHANE BURN!

Malcolm Smith said at December 11, 2003 1:32 PM:

Can't hydrogen based fuel cells with reformers, extract the hydrogen from methane (natural gas) without creating CO2?
In that case, the global warming effect can be avoided if the carbon is collected and sequestered.

Reptoid said at December 11, 2003 8:31 PM:

These new finds will do nothing to encourage development of cleaner energy resources, not to mention the impact that extracting them will have on the already dwindling polar caps. The only way we we'll learn to get off our addiction to fossil fuels/hydrocarbons is if they start dwindling in supply. But with that said, at least Antartica doesn't harbor terrorists hellbent on blowing us to pieces. Much better to be dependent on the Antarticans to power our SUVs.

Bob Badour said at December 12, 2003 4:25 PM:


Turning the Saudi energy reserve from the massive world reserve that it is into a minor player will help to defund our enemies even if it does not fully defund them. Who cares about clean energy when they have a war to win?

Philip Shropshire said at December 16, 2003 8:39 PM:

Yeah, that's Mother of Storms. It's based on the mining of Hydrates which somehow spurs a radical global warming, which creates Jupiter Red Spot hurricanes storms that never end. I think there were like four or five hurricanes just continually circling the planet...The writer's name is John Barnes.

Larry White said at May 3, 2005 8:47 AM:

Hi! I agree-Mother of All Storms by John Barnes. A real exciting, quick read! Lots of science that is pertinent.

Philip Morkel said at May 6, 2006 2:47 AM:

The extraction of methane from deep lakes and oceans, and even deep flooded coal mines, is all possible using a technique I have developed and tested over the past four years. I have tested it in a deep lake in Central Africa for six months, producing methane at a very economic cost of $1.50/GJ. I think the key thing missing from the existing methane extraction methodologies is the ability to escape from the paradigm of oil and gas drilling techniques. A whole new approach is needed to reduce cost and to up the efficiency. The method is good for water depths from 1500' to 4000' and can be operated with no moving parts underwater. We don't have to wait 20 years to make this commercial.

Thomas Bukowski said at June 25, 2006 2:29 PM:

Just a thought, When the news just recently showed a hypothetical scene of where North Korea's missle is shot down is about where the methane gas is liberated from the sea floor createing the "Mother of all storms"?
Do we then get to go from science fiction to scince fact,Hmmmm.

Avi Bhagan said at February 13, 2007 7:16 PM:

Consider the following:
Methane Hydrates are not trapped in the ground as traditional Hydrocarbon reserves are, they occur naturally on the ocean bed and can come to the surface naturally due to changes in pressure and temperature. Considering that most scientists accept that there has been about a 1 degree rise in ocean surface temperature in the last 100 years, imagine the large amounts of Methane that has been released into the atmosphere as a result of global warming (assuming that these reserves did not magically appear overnight when they were “discovered” but have always been there). Now since methane is about 100 time more potent than Carbon Dioxide as a green house gas, would it not be logical to remove as much of it from the sea floor as possible?

OK. I’m just being the devil’s advocate. The Ocean “Surface Temperatures” are not indicative of the temperatures at the bottom so much of that argument is unfounded. And more importantly ANY attempt to mine gas hydrates will inevitably lead to seepage into the atmosphere as no method can guarantee that 100% of gas liberated from the sea bottom will be captured at the surface. In which case Global warming will get worse as Methane is a greater evil that Carbon Dioxide! 

anthony last said at February 11, 2008 6:22 AM:

What evidence is there that methane is 100 times as potent as co2 as a greenhouse gas.? True you get three times as many molecules to the ton as CO2. But secondly, the methane molecue as a whole is non polar but the indivudual bonds are weakly polar and inrfra red absorbtion depends on no of vibrating suystems and their polarity. Methane has four bonds to Co2`s 2 but C=O bonds are more polar. Only two are IR active.Thirdly CH4 lifetime in the atmosphere ( Crutzen) is about 12 years whereupon it is oxidised to co2 whose lifetime is about 100 years. Co2 concentrations are already nearing saturation absorption of IR, while Methane` conc is not near saturation and this logatrithmic dependence on concentration is probably the worst thing in methanes disfavour. But overall the real factor is probably nearer ten than 100 and could be about 3.

Avi Bhagan said at February 20, 2008 6:21 AM:

check link for methane contribution to global warming.

Anthony Last said at February 23, 2008 12:33 PM:

Thank you Avi. I was aware of that link. I think the following link is to be preferred, which gives a ratio of 3.7 per mole which can be multiplied by the ratio of molecular weights to give about 10.2. But I think we can both agree that X100 is a bit over the top.

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