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Subsurface gas hydrates in the northern Gulf of Mexico

September 25, 2012

The northernGulf of Mexico (GoM) has long been a focus area for the study of gashydrates. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, work focused on massive gashydrates deposits that were found to form at and near the seafloor in association with hydrocarbon seeps. However, as global scientific and industrial interest in assessment of the drilling hazards and resource implications of gashydrate accelerated, focus shifted to understanding the nature and abundance of "buried" gashydrates. Through 2005, despite the drilling of more than 1200 oil and gas industry wells through the gashydrate stability zone, published evidence of significant sub-seafloor gashydrate in the GoM was lacking. A 2005 drilling program by the GoM GasHydrate Joint Industry Project (the JIP) provided an initial confirmation of the occurrence of gashydrates below the GoM seafloor. In 2006, release of data from a 2003 industry well in Alaminos Canyon 818 provided initial documentation of gashydrate occurrence at high concentrations in sand reservoirs in the GoM. From 2006 to 2008, the JIP facilitated the integration of geophysical and geological data to identify sites prospective for gashydrate-bearing sands, culminating in the recommendation of numerous drilling targets within four sites spanning a range of typical deepwater settings. Concurrent with, but independent of, the JIP prospecting effort, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) conducted a preliminary assessment of the GoM gashydratepetroleum system, resulting in an estimate of 607 trillion cubic meters (21,444 trillion cubic feet) gas-in-place of which roughly one-third occurs at expected high concentrations in sand reservoirs. In 2009, the JIP drilled seven wells at three sites, discovering gashydrate at high saturation in sand reservoirs in four wells and suspected gashydrate at low to moderate saturations in two other wells. These results provide an initial confirmation of the complex nature and occurrence of gashydrate-bearing sands in the GoM, the efficacy of the integrated geological/geophysical prospecting approach used to identify the JIP drilling sites, and the relevance of the 2008 BOEM assessment.