Science Center Objects

The CMHRP partners with the USGS Energy Resource Program (ERP) in the USGS Energy and Minerals Mission Area in studies of natural gas hydratesGas hydrate is a solid, ice-like form of water and gas (usually methane) that is widespread at the intermediate pressure and low temperature conditions that characterize deepwater continental margin sediments and sediments within and beneath continuous permafrost. Globally, methane hydrates may sequester about 15% of the carbon that can enter the ocean-atmosphere system. USGS gas hydrates research focuses on their potential as an energy resource, their interaction with the environment, and their connection to submarine slides and borehole instability.


Image shows a cross-section of the seafloor showing gas hydrate locations

Summary of the locations where gas hydrate occurs beneath the seafloor, in permafrost areas, and beneath some ice sheets, along with the processes (shown in red) that destroy methane (sinks) in the sediments, ocean, and atmosphere.  The differently colored circles denote different sources of methane.  Gas hydrates are likely breaking down now on shallow continental shelves in the Arctic Ocean and at the feather edge of gas hydrate stability on continental margins (1000-1650 feet). Credit: Ruppel and Kessler (2017).

As a highly concentrated form of methane (natural gas) that occurs at shallower depths beneath the seafloor or tundra than conventional gas deposits, gas hydrate may be a readily accessible energy resource. To investigate this resource potential, USGS scientists use geophysical data to identify hydrate-rich deposits, conduct laboratory experiments to determine how hydrate forms and breaks down in sediments, and participate in deep drilling and coring programs to directly sample and measure the reservoir. The ERP provides technical and operational leadership or advice for major hydrate-related marine and permafrost drilling programs conducted by the U.S. and international partners. The CMHRP's scientists lead pre-drilling marine site surveys, assess and prioritize drilling sites, and conduct laboratory analyses of recovered samples, particularly those held at in situ pressure to preserve the gas hydrate.  

Image shows two scientists in hard hats collecting a research core aboard a drill rig

Scientists aboard the D/S Chikyu prepare to collect a research core drilled from marine sediments in the Indian Ocean. This research is part of the 2015 Indian National Gas Hydrate Program Expedition 02 (NGHP-02), which is a follow-up to the 2006 NGHP-01. 

NGHP-02 identified several large deposits of potentially producible gas hydrates in the Indian Ocean. This project was led by the Government of India, with scientists from Japan and the United States, including the U.S. Geological Survey. Read more here.

(Credit: Tim Collett, USGS. Public domain.)


USGS involvement in future deep drilling programs on the Alaskan North Slope and in the Indian Ocean, northern Gulf of Mexico, and other deepwater marine settings will advance understanding of the distribution, saturation, and resource potential of gas hydrates. The Alaskan drilling program is expected to lead to a research-scale, year-long production test to validate methods for deriving gas from methane hydrates.

The CMHRP makes numerous direct contributions to gas hydrate energy resource studies. CMHRP researchers lead the acquisition of marine seismic data to delineate the distribution of gas hydrates on U.S. margins and have managed site selection for northern Gulf of Mexico gas hydrates drilling. For decades, CMHRP scientists have been among the leaders in the measurement of physical and geotechnical properties of hydrate-bearing sediments from marine and permafrost areas. This work has contributed to a better understanding of gas hydrate reservoirs and has helped to refine models of sediment response during methane production.

The CMHRP also advances gas hydrate energy resource studies using a state-of-the-art facility equipped with special tools to measure the properties of hydrate-bearing sediments in pressure cores, which are cores that have been maintained at their original seafloor pressure throughout recovery, transport, and analysis. Benchtop testing in this facility measures the amount of methane released from hydrate-bearing sediment cores during warming and depressurization. The CMHRP also has facilities to conduct advanced chemical analyses of gas and pore water samples collected during hydrate energy resource studies.


Image shows a drill rig on a snowy landscape with the sun on the horizon

A drill rig at the Mallik test site in Canada's Mckenzie Delta.  USGS joined the Geological Survey of Canada, JAPEX, and the Japanese National Oil Company to drill test wells for natural gas production from gas hydrate deposits. Read more about the Mallik project here.

(Credit: Tim Collett, USGS. Public domain.)