1
Introduction

It is estimated that fossil fuels provide 85 percent of the energy consumed in the United States—a demand that is expected to increase in the coming years (NRC, 2003). As a clean fuel source, natural gas may have the potential to fulfill a disproportionately large fraction of that increase (Energy Information Administration, 2002). In addition to well-characterized, accessible natural gas reserves, large possible sources remain that require major technological advances for their use to become feasible.

Gas hydrate deposits are one such possible future reserve and have become the focus of much attention because of the vast natural resources thought to exist that could possibly be tapped as an energy source. Although gas hydrate was first discovered in the laboratory nearly 200 years ago (Davy, 1811) and found in natural gas pipelines in the 1930s (Hammerschmidt, 1934), it was not found in nature until the 1960s (Makogon, 1965). Since then, evidence has accumulated for the widespread occurrence of gas hydrate beneath the Arctic permafrost and in sediments on continental margins worldwide (Plate 1). Total U.S. resources of gas hydrate have been estimated to be on the order of 200,000 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) (Collett, 1997). If the annual U.S. consumption of natural gas in 2002 of 23.6 Tcf (BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2003) doubles and 1 to 10 percent of in-place hydrate is recoverable, gas hydrate has the potential to provide the United States with natural gas for 40 to 400 years. In evaluating this estimate, it is important to note that some researchers suggest that the in-place hydrate resource may be smaller than assumed here (Milkov, 2004).



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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States 1 Introduction It is estimated that fossil fuels provide 85 percent of the energy consumed in the United States—a demand that is expected to increase in the coming years (NRC, 2003). As a clean fuel source, natural gas may have the potential to fulfill a disproportionately large fraction of that increase (Energy Information Administration, 2002). In addition to well-characterized, accessible natural gas reserves, large possible sources remain that require major technological advances for their use to become feasible. Gas hydrate deposits are one such possible future reserve and have become the focus of much attention because of the vast natural resources thought to exist that could possibly be tapped as an energy source. Although gas hydrate was first discovered in the laboratory nearly 200 years ago (Davy, 1811) and found in natural gas pipelines in the 1930s (Hammerschmidt, 1934), it was not found in nature until the 1960s (Makogon, 1965). Since then, evidence has accumulated for the widespread occurrence of gas hydrate beneath the Arctic permafrost and in sediments on continental margins worldwide (Plate 1). Total U.S. resources of gas hydrate have been estimated to be on the order of 200,000 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) (Collett, 1997). If the annual U.S. consumption of natural gas in 2002 of 23.6 Tcf (BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2003) doubles and 1 to 10 percent of in-place hydrate is recoverable, gas hydrate has the potential to provide the United States with natural gas for 40 to 400 years. In evaluating this estimate, it is important to note that some researchers suggest that the in-place hydrate resource may be smaller than assumed here (Milkov, 2004).

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States THE DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY’S ROLE IN METHANE HYDRATE RESEARCH The U.S Department of Energy (DOE) is mandated to lead the U.S. government in activities with regard to energy. The mission of the DOE is presented in Box 1.1. In the United States, the responsibility for funding gas hydrate research has traditionally been split among several different government agencies. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded a wide range of hydrate-related research studies, especially as part of the international Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) and its predecessor, the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP). The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has also been involved in gas hydrate research for several decades. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has supported methane hydrate research using submersibles. An objective of the Methane Hydrate Research and Development (R&D) Act of 2000 is to improve coordination among studies supported by different agencies. Although the missions of these agencies differ, a basic knowledge of gas hydrate is needed to address these mission overlaps. Research to quantify natural gas hydrate and understand its role in the global carbon cycle has been supported intermittently by DOE over the past two decades (Box 1.2). Laboratory work on gas hydrate has been conducted in national labs, as well as within academia and industry. The DOE developed a gas hydrate research and development program as early as 1982, in response to the retrieval of a methane hydrate core off the coast of Guatemala by RV Glomar Challenger, a research vessel uniquely suited to take deep sea cores. The initial DOE methane hydrate program funded nearly $8 million in basic research, but it was discontinued in 1992. Box 1.1 The Mission of the Department of Energy The Department of Energy’s overarching mission is to advance the national, economic and energy security of the United States; to promote scientific and technological innovation in support of that mission; and to ensure the environmental cleanup of the national nuclear weapons complex. SOURCE: DOE, 2003a.

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States Box 1.2 History of Hydrate Energy Research at DOE 1982: Coincident with the recovery of a hydrate-bearing core from offshore Guatemala (DSDP Leg 67 in 1979), DOE begins a 10-year, $8 million program to study hydrates in nature. 1992: Research is suspended to pursue shorter-range energy goals. 1997: The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommends a five-year national DOE fossil energy program (PCAST, 1997). 1998: Following a series of public workshops, DOE publishes A Strategy for Methane Hydrates Research and Development (DOE, 1998). 1999: DOE releases the National Methane Hydrate Multi-Year R&D Program Plan (DOE, 1999). 2000: The Methane Hydrate Research and Development (R&D) Act of 2000 is passed and authorizes a five-year national program on gas hydrate, funded initially with $3.0 million and funded in each successive year at amounts ranging from $9.5 million to $10 million. A Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee (MHAC) is appointed to provide advice on this effort. 2002: The MHAC publishes Methane Hydrate Issues and Opportunities: Including Assessment of Uncertainty of the Impact of Methane Hydrate on Global Climate Change. (MHAC, 2002a). 2003: The National Research Council (NRC) begins a review of the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program as mandated by the Methane Hydrate R&D Act (P.L. 106-193; Appendix B), to provide “a study of the progress made … and … recommendations for future methane hydrate research and development needs”(Box ES.2). A recommendation to renew methane hydrate research was put forward in 1997 by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) because of a growing interest in ensuring domestic supplies of natural gas and, in part, as a response to evolving international research programs (PCAST, 1997). Planning for the current DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program began with a DOE-sponsored

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States workshop held in January 1998 in Denver, Colorado. Approximately 120 attendees from government, academia, and industry participated. A follow-up workshop was held in Washington, D.C., in May 1998. Building on the results of these workshops, DOE prepared A Strategy for Methane Hydrates Research and Development, published in August 1998. This document includes lists and discussions of many research projects under way in the United States and other countries and sets out four program goals: (1) resource characterization, (2) knowledge and technology for production, (3) understanding the role of hydrate in the global carbon cycle and climate change, and (4) the developing the understanding necessary for safe practice and seafloor stability (DOE, 1998). The main research emphasis was on production, as indicated by the statement: “The major long-term benefit will be an increased supply of cleaner fuel …” (DOE, 1998, p. 18). Another important objective was stated more explicitly: “Develop the knowledge and technology necessary for commercial production of methane from oceanic and permafrost hydrate systems by 2015” (DOE, 1998, p. 23). By June 1999, the staff at DOE had developed a plan for the activities to be carried out, which was presented in the National Methane Hydrate Multi-Year R&D Program (DOE, 1999). This document laid the groundwork for DOE’s role in carrying forward the necessary activities should “the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 1999” be enacted into law and funded at anticipated levels (DOE, 1999). In 1999, the U.S. Congress drafted legislation that culminated in the Methane Hydrate R&D Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-193; Appendix B). The purpose of this act was to improve coordination among the various public and private agencies and the multiple engineering and scientific disciplines involved in gas hydrate research. The act significantly increased the level of funding available for gas hydrate research (Table 1.1). It authorized $47.5 million in expenditures to the DOE from Fiscal Year (FY) 2001 to FY 2005 to support the program; DOE had managed $29 million under this program through FY 2003 (Table 1.1). Organization of the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program Activities authorized under the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000 are the responsibility of the Assistant Secretary of

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States TABLE 1.1 DOE Gas Hydrate Research and Development Budget Fiscal Year Millions of Dollars 1997 0.3 1998 0.3 1999 0.5 2000 3.0 2001 10.0 2002 9.5 2003 9.5 2004 9.4   SOURCE: Allison, 2003. Energy. The DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program is housed within the Office of Fossil Energy and managed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), in Morgantown, West Virginia. Establishing program goals and direction for the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program has been an open, cooperative process. The 1998 strategy was developed using an interagency task force. The follow-up report National Methane Hydrate Multi-Year R&D Program Plan (DOE, 1999) built on the 1998 strategy and was reviewed by an extensive collection of industry and academic experts. THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL REVIEW Article 7 of the Methane Hydrate R&D Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-193, Section 7; Appendix B) mandates an evaluation of the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program by the NRC, to be completed by September 2004. This report fulfills the mandated evaluation (Box 1.3) and was conducted under the auspices of both the Ocean Studies Board and the Board on Earth Sciences and Resources. The NRC Committee to Review the Activities Authorized Under the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000 was convened in July 2003 to carry out the study. To ensure a complete assessment of the progress of the program and provide advice on program emphasis to ensure that program goals are met, the committee also considered the issues of international collaboration and scientific oversight.

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States Box 1.3 Statement of Task for the NRC Committee to Review the Activities Authorized Under the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000 This study will review the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Program administered by the Department of Energy. The committee will provide advice on program emphasis to ensure that significant contributions are made towards understanding methane hydrates as a source of energy and as a potential contributor to climate change by advancing basic and applied research. The committee will also make recommendations for future methane hydrate research and development needs. In addition, the committee will assess whether the DOE program is meeting the goals of developing technologies for the efficient and environmentally sound development of methane hydrate resources, reducing the risks of drilling through methane hydrates, and mitigating the environmental impacts of hydrate decomposition. ORGANIZATION OF THIS REPORT This report contains six chapters and nine appendixes. Chapter 2 briefly summarizes the reasons for studying gas hydrate distribution and dynamics and discusses the tools available for this research. Chapter 3 reviews specific projects funded by the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program that have been completed or are in progress, to assist in assessing the effectiveness of the program in meeting the goals laid out in the Methane Hydrate R&D Act. Chapter 4 provides recommendations for program emphasis, research, and resource development within the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program. Chapter 5 provides an assessment of the scientific oversight of the program and suggests ways in which it

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States could be strengthened. Chapter 6, the final chapter, presents a summary and discussion of the findings and recommendations in the report. The appendixes provide background information. Appendix A contains biographical information about the NRC committee and staff responsible for this report. Appendix B is a copy of the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000. Appendix C lists the speakers who gave presentations at the open meetings of the Committee to Review the Activities Authorized Under the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000. Appendix D summarizes of the committee members impressions of the DOE 2003 Hydrate R&D Conference and a workshop sponsored by ChevronTexaco on a joint industry project in the Gulf of Mexico. Appendix E is a list of acronyms used in this report. Appendixes F and G contain information provided to the committee by DOE on specifics of the projects funded by the Methane Hydrate R&D Program from 2000 to 2003. Appendix H contains two letters submitted to the Secretary of Energy by the Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee formed by the act. Appendix I lists members of two advisory committees: the Interagency Coordinating Committee (ICC), established by the act; and the Technical Coordinating Team, established by the ICC.

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