Since their discovery in the laboratory nearly 200 years ago, crystal-like compounds called "clathrates" have fascinated scientists. One clathrate in particular, methane hydrate, is gaining considerable attention because of its enormous potential as a source of untapped energy.
Two cruises aboard the research vessel Gyre, one this past spring and another in August, focus on the Keathley Canyon and Atwater Valley regions of the Gulf - large areas of the outer continental shelf off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas. Both cruises support a larger effort, the Gulf of Mexico Joint Industry Project, funded by the Department of Energy's National Methane Hydrate R&D Program.
The U.S. Geological Survey, also with DOE funding, conducted the first 2-week cruise in May. Using sound waves to image the sedimentary layers of the sea floor, researchers profiled the two regions to determine the likely presence and concentration of hydrates.
During the second cruise, scheduled for August, scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory will refine the search and use a Deep-Towed Acoustics/Geophysics System to make higher resolution measurements in selected locations.
Information collected this year will be used to prioritize sites and narrow the geographic boundaries for drilling in 2004 and 2005. When the data is combined from both phases of the project - this year's evaluations and future drilling experiments - it will comprise the most comprehensive data set to date of deepwater hydrate sediments.
A better understanding of methane hydrate could have multiple benefits:
The Joint Industry Project is a 4-year collaborative effort to develop technology and collect data to characterize naturally occurring gas hydrates in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. Industry partners in the Joint Industry Project include ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips, Total E&P USA, Schlumberger, Halliburton Energy Services, the Minerals Management Service (Gulf of Mexico Region), the Japan National Oil Corporation, and India's Reliance Industries. Academic collaborators include the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and Texas A&M University through the Joint Oceanographic Institute.
For more information on the Joint Industry Project and the National Methane Hydrate R&D Program, visit the National Energy Technology Laboratory's Hydrate website at National Methane Hydrate Program.
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