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Natural gas production from methane hydrates may someday prove viable. The USGS Gas Hydrate Project takes part in US and international programs to investigate the potential of deepwater marine and permafrost gas hydrates as an energy resource. Long-term production tests are the next step in this research.

The first goal of the USGS Gas Hydrates Project is to contribute to research that may lead to the development of gas hydrates as a potential energy source. The coming years will see the first long-term tests of methane production from gas hydrate deposits in both deepwater and permafrost settings. The USGS is at the forefront of these efforts within the US and sometimes has opportunities to participate in international projects with similar goals.

The energy component of the USGS Gas Hydrates Project is managed by the Energy Research Program and personnel based in Denver, Colorado. Extensive information about this program can be found here. An overview of gas hydrates as a potential resource can be found here. Note that there has never been a long-term research production test of gas from methane hydrates. Thus, there are no proved reserves of gas sequestered in methane hydrates.

  • Mallik (Mackenzie Delta, Canada) drilling in 2002
  • Alaskan North Slope ("Mt Elbert" drilling at Milne Point) in 2007
  • Academic drilling: IODP 311 (Vancouver margin); ODP 164 (Blake Ridge) and 204 (Cascadia margin)
  • National Gas Hydrates Program (NGHP) India
  • Deepwater Gulf of Mexico Coring and Drilling (DOE/Chevron JIP) in 2005 and 2009
  • Methane Hydrate 21 (MH21) Pressure core analysis in Japan in 2012
Map of Worldwide distribution of observed and inferred gas hydrates

Worldwide distribution of observed and inferred gas hydrates in marine and permafrost-associated settings that have been the subject of drilling programs. The color coding refers to the primary sediment type in each location and therefore designates the likely type of gas hydrate reservoir at each site.

Marine Hydrate Resources

The deepwater part of the Gulf of Mexico, a world-class petroleum basin, has held particular interest for marine drilling focused on evaluating gas hydrate as a potential resource. USGS personnel had both leadership and support roles in the 2009 DOE/Chevron JIP logging-while-drilling (LWD) program and earlier drilling and coring in 2005. USGS scientists also led the site selection team for the 2009 LWD program and conducted multichannel seismic programs that contributed to planning for the drilling in 2003 and the late 1990s. In 2013, the Gas Hydrates Project will complete a multicomponent and high resolution seismic survey at the sites of the 2009 LWD program, which targeted high-saturation gas hydrates in coarse-grained sediments like sands. Scientists currently working in the USGS Gas Hydrates Project were also involved in piston coring/jumbo piston coring, heat flow data acquisition, and other efforts to support DOE/Chevron JIP Gulf of Mexico resource studies in 2002 and 2003.

Hydrate Resources Associated with Permafrost

Although only a small percentage of global gas hydrate deposits are located in and beneath permafrost at high Northern latitudes, these methane hydrates may be the first to be routinely exploited as a source for gas to power on-site infrastructure needed for conventional oil/gas production. In 2007, the USGS Gas Hydrates Project had a leadership role and provided geochemistry and physical properties support for the BPXA/DOE/USGS coring and drilling of permafrost-associated gas hydrates at Milne Point, Alaska, on the edge of the Beaufort Sea. Future gas hydrates drilling on the Alaskan North Slope is likely to be focused on completing a long-term production test. The USGS has also been involved in drilling in the Canadian Arctic (e.g., Mallik well) and played a support role for the Ignik Sukumi test to inject carbon dioxide and nitrogen into a hydrate-bearing formation on the Alaskan North Slope. The USGS Gas Hydrates Project has also contributed to analyses of legacy geophysical and geochemistry data relevant to understanding Alaskan North Slope petroleum systems.