Researchers use PCCTs to advance methane hydrate study in Japan

A research team in Japan is using new pressure coring characterization tools to keep deep sea floor subsurface methane hydrate-bearing sediment samples from deteriorating, the US Geological Survey reported.

Methane hydrates are stable only at certain pressures and temperatures, and scientists have been working since the 1990s on sophisticated techniques to retrieve and preserve samples.

Georgia Tech scientists built and designed the pressure core characterization tools (PCCTs) with long-term support from the US Department of Energy and the Gulf of Mexico Gas Hydrate Joint Industry Project (JIP), the US Department of the Interior agency said Feb. 13.

USGS and Georgia Tech scientists will operate the devices.

“This project brings together international experts, each with specialized knowledge to share about these important hydrate deposits,” USGS Energy Resources Program Coordinator Brenda Pierce said. “USGS is excited that our Japanese colleagues have invited us to participate in this project along with Georgia Tech.”

Japanese researchers for years have evaluated hydrates in the Nankai trough (OGJ Online, Sept. 12, 2005).

Measuring pressure cores

The coring characterization tools are is part of a multiyear deepwater methane hydrate exploration and production program led by the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. and Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. USGS’s Methane Hydrate Research Project and researchers from Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering are collaborating.

Japanese researchers used innovative technology last year to recover and preserve methane hydrate-bearing samples from layers beneath the deep sea floor in the Nankai Trough offshore Japan, USGS said.

The new program’s key tool is the Instrumented Pressure Testing Chamber, which was the first device capable of measuring certain properties of pressure cores without first depressurizing them. Special pressure vessels that measure the strength of the sediments and how quickly fluids can flow through the sediments are another device.

Testing these instruments in Japan will also help prepare for the analysis of pressure cores that may be obtained in the future from hydrate deposits in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and on Alaska’s North Slope, according to USGS. Along with Japan, these areas are ideal locations for future research to assess methane hydrates’ occurrence and production potential.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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