OTC: Natural gas hydrates research active, optimistic

Methane hydrates research has made unexpected strides since 2000, but technical and economic obstacles have to be resolved before hydrates production can be proved feasible, a speaker told OTC May 8.

Paula Dittrick
Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, May 9 -- Methane hydrates research has made unexpected strides since 2000, but technical and economic obstacles have to be resolved before hydrates production can be proved feasible, a speaker told the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston on May 8.

Brad Tomer, director for the Strategic Center for Natural Gas and Oil within the US Department of Energy, credited recent successful research to what he called "aggressive" international collaboration research and development efforts.

"We haven't done long-term productivity tests yet," Tomer said during his luncheon speech. "This is very young research and development…we've got a lot to learn." Hydrates also were discussed at separate technical sessions at OTC.

The US Geological Survey's Energy Resources Program has said the world's gas hydrates accumulations exceed the volume of known conventional gas resources.

Tomer said the question remains as to whether industry can economically produce those resources. It's estimated the US gas hydrates resources could total 200,000 tcf of gas in place and that world hydrates resources could total about 700,000 tcf of gas in place.

Tomer said he is optimistic that hydrates production can be demonstrated on a commercial scale by 2020, and that commercial production possibility could get under way by 2025.

Japan might have the most active hydrates research program, Tomer said, adding that other countries with research programs are India, China, South Korea, Canada, and the US.

In the US this year, a gas hydrates joint industry project (JIP), working in cooperation with government agencies, is expected to drill three deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

Chevron Corp. is in charge of the JIP. Last year, the JIP logged and cored hydrates sites in Alaminos Canyon and Walker Ridge.

That project is actually a DOE cooperative agreement funded under the National Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act that is managed by DOE, and includes the US Minerals Management Service, USGS, and several other government entities.

Chevron and other JIP members have provided scientific input and support to the effort, including work on developing the sites selected for drilling.

Elsewhere in the US, the DOE and USGS are involved in hydrates research efforts in Alaska with BP PLC.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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