DOE Expands Methane Hydrates Research

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded nearly $5 million to research projects at seven universities that will seek to expand existing knowledge of methane hydrates and its potential impact on the environment, U.S. economic competitiveness and energy security.

Two Texas universities are among the recipients of the DOE award, which was announced Wednesday. The University of Texas at Austin will receive nearly $1.7 million to fund its research with Ohio State University and Columbia University-Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory into the primary influences on the development of persistent, massive hydrate accumulations in deep sediments below the seabed. By extending a 3-D reservoir model to accumulations, the role of free gas in their persistence, and locations where these massive accumulations might be possible, DOE said in a statement.

DOE awarded Texas A&M University’s Engineering Experiment Substation approximately $390,000 to develop a numerical model to address the numerous complexities associated with production from hydrate-bearing sediments. The project, which TEES will conduct with the Georgia Institute of Technology, will provide a power new modeling tool to optimize future hydrate production-related testing and a greater understanding of how hydrate systems react to induced or natural changes in their environment.

Other universities that are receiving research funds include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, George Tech Research Corporation, Oregon State University, the University of Washington and the University of Oregon.

Methane hydrates are ice-like structures with natural gas locked inside, which can be found both onshore and offshore, including under the Arctic permafrost and in ocean sediments along almost all the world’s continental shelf.

Methane hydrates look like white ice, but when melted or exposed to pressure and temperature conditions outside those where methane hydrates are stable, a solid crystalline lattice turns to liquid water, and the enclosed methane molecules are released as gas.

In May 2012, DOE and its Japanese partners announced a successful field trial of methane hydrate production technologies on Alaska’s North Slope. Based on the results of this field trial, DOE launched a new research effort to conduct a long-term production test in the Arctic and to test additional technologies that could be used to locate and safely extract methane hydrates on a larger scale in the U.S. Gulf Coast.

In March of this year, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) successfully extracted natural gas from methane hydrate deposits from around 1,000 feet under the seabed offshore Japan. JOGMEC’s success

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at


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