Event Recap

In an EPIC Seminar on March 4th, DOE’s Ray Boswell explained gas hydrate resources, exploration and production.

By Gosia Labno

A relatively newly-discovered natural resource, gas hydrates, remain a mystery to many scientists and policy makers. Defined by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as “ice-like substances” that form from methane in deep-sea sediment, there are astoundingly large estimates of hydrates found globally. Unfortunately, research on hydrates is not strong enough to convince governments to invest a sufficient amount of money into learning more about the effects they have on the environment. In an effort to explain gas hydrate resources, exploration and production, Dr. Ray Boswell, the Technology Manager for Natural Gas Technology programs at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, presented at an Energy Policy Institute seminar on March 4, 2015.

Over the last 15 years, there’s been an increase in deep-sea drilling, largely in Asia and North America. Thanks to this, scientists know that a variety of different forms of gas hydrates exist. The most favorable and of interest to climate researchers are sand-hosted reservoirs because of their permeability, allowing high saturation. Scientists also know that in order to produce hydrates, geochemical conditions must be changed. Original production models incorrectly showed that 10 years were needed for gas to show up, and even more to reach peak flow. Now, it is known that production starts almost immediately and reaches a peak relatively quickly.

Gas hydrates are not hard to locate. In fact, they have been confirmed in Nankai Trough in Japan and the Gulf of Mexico and Blake Ridge in the U.S. Though it is estimated that about half of hydrate resources are economically recoverable, there are currently no gas hydrate reserves for a number of reasons. Because of the cost and time commitment, governments do not want to dedicate their finances and time on testing, even though they would allow scientists to better assess environmental implications. Another major problem is getting access to sites where gas hydrates have been confirmed. One such location in Alaska is dominated by ExxonMobil. Unfortunately, the company is currently not interested in allowing scientists access to do research.

Dr. Boswell’s presentation brought to light the fact that there are many unanswered questions in gas hydrate exploration. “The government,” he said, “has a responsibility to stockpile options in case of certain future contingencies.” Supporting the full evaluation of emerging science issues such as this one is just one of them.

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