Appendix H
Letters from the Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee (2001 and 2002) to Department of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States Appendix H Letters from the Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee (2001 and 2002) to Department of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States LETTER DATED JUNE 1, 20016 The Honorable Spencer Abraham Secretary U.S. Department of Energy 1000 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, DC 20585-1000 June 1, 2001 Dear Mr. Secretary, In accordance with the provisions of the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000, a Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee was created earlier this year to advise you on a number of issues involving methane hydrate. The Committee had its initial meeting on May 17 and 18, 2001. This letter summarizes the committee’s discussions and provides you the issues and opportunities arising from ongoing research in this field. At its meeting the committee affirmed the four objectives for methane hydrate research as outlined in the Department of Energy’s 1999 National Methane Hydrate Multi-Year R&D Program Plan. These focus on: Determining the location of methane hydrate deposits and assessing their potential as a domestic and global fuel source. Developing the technology for commercial production from methane hydrates. Understanding the role of methane hydrates in the global carbon cycle and climate change. Understanding hydrate-sediment systems in sediments near the sea floor to ensure safe operations for oil and gas operations and to assess the risk of mass movement and methane release. In addition, the committee agreed on a fifth objective: 6   This appendix shows only the text of the two letters. Official letterhead and original signatures are not included.

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States Understanding how best to protect the environment in the event that methane hydrate production occurs. The committee reviewed the current status of methane hydrate research in the United States and abroad in light of the objectives laid out in the Multi-Year R&D Program Plan. The following items are a summary of the committee’s discussions and observations: The most recent U.S. Geological Survey mean estimate for hydrate gas in place within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone is over 200,000 TCF. If only 1% of that is commercially recoverable, the resulting resource base of 2000 TCF far exceeds the nation’s conventional gas resources. Interest in methane hydrates by the oil and gas industry has grown steadily over the past 5 years. Industry consortia are being created and industry funding for this research is growing. Several methods of producing natural gas from hydrate deposits have been proposed. More studies are needed to assess the relative merits of each technology for any specific hydrate occurrence. The role of methane hydrate in global climate is not well understood, and is not consistently included in models of global climate change. Given that methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 and the abundance of methane stored as hydrate, additional studies on this issue should be a high priority. Studies of sub-sea landslides and collapse features suggest a possible link to underlying methane hydrates. These events could have serious consequences for coastal areas and offshore operations. More research is needed to confirm this link and assess the risk of future events. Our knowledge of living systems associated with methane hydrate accumulations is incomplete. This knowledge gap will likely delay any commercial development of methane hydrates. The Minerals Management Service and other agencies are encouraged to increase the pace of this research.

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States The committee strongly agreed that the proposed funding level for FY 2002 is inadequate and unrealistic. Activities involving characterization of the resource to enable realistic assessments of hazards and eventual determination of the commercial viability of the resource require substantial experimental and field verification not possible at such low budget levels. Capabilities and interest, including industry cost sharing, exist to support higher, more appropriate funding to evaluate this potentially valuable resource. The Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000 required of the advisory committee that a report be generated by May, 2002, on the anticipated impact on global climate change from methane hydrate formation, methane hydrate degassing, and the consumption of natural gas produced from methane hydrates. The committee has initiated work on that report and it will be completed as required. The committee will continue to work with the Department of Energy to identify and prioritize research areas that will yield the greatest benefits toward achieving the objectives of H. R. 1753. We are available to provide any further advice that you need on this important area of investigation. Sincerely, Arthur H. Johnson, Chair Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee Attachments

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States Attachment 1 Membership of the Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee Peter Brewer Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute Richard Charter Environmental Defense Gerald Holder University of Pittsburgh Stephen Holditch Schlumberger Technology Corp. Arthur Johnson Chevron USA Production Company Miriam Kastner Scripps Institution of Oceanography University of California, San Diego Lorie Langley Oak Ridge National Laboratory William Parrish Phillips Petroleum Company Harry Roberts Louisiana State University Carolyn Ruppel Georgia Institute of Technology Sabrina Watkins Conoco Inc.

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States Attachment 2 Key Points Raised in Discussion Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee Meeting Woods Hole, MA May 17-18, 2001 Resource Potential The most recent U.S. Geological Survey mean estimate for hydrate gas in place within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone is over 200,000 TCF. If only 1% of that is commercially recoverable, the resulting resource base of 2000 TCF far exceeds the nation’s conventional gas resources. The estimates of methane hydrate abundance vary considerably. However, even the low volume estimates dwarf the volume of conventional methane in the United States. P.L. 106-193 identified many areas of investigation for methane hydrate research. Before significant progress can be made on most of them, better methods of characterizing the natural occurrence of methane hydrates must be developed. The characteristics of methane hydrate occurrence vary significantly from one region to another. As a result, studies will need to be carried out in several different geological settings. The United States lags behind Japan in assessing the potential for methane hydrate as an energy source. Industry Involvement Interest in methane hydrates by the oil and gas industry has grown steadily over the past 5 years. Industry funding for this research is growing. A workshop on Gulf of Mexico hydrates in August 2000 (sponsored by the DOE and Chevron) drew 34 participants from 7 oil companies, 9 E&P service companies and 3 other energy companies.

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States As an outgrowth of that workshop, a joint industry project (JIP) was formed with the intent of conducting drilling and coring operations in the Gulf of Mexico for methane hydrate within 3 years. This JIP is contingent on support from the DOE Methane Hydrate Program. The immediate and near-term focus of the oil industry on methane hydrates is on safety issues related to conventional oil and gas operations. The industry’s longer-term focus is on the resource potential. In the past year the DOE and U.S.G.S. conducted an evaluation of hydrate-bearing sediments in a well drilled by Phillips Petroleum for deeper objectives on the North Slope of Alaska. The committee strongly supports such “piggybacking” of DOE programs onto industry activities as a cost-effective means of achieving their objectives. More than 20 proposals for methane hydrate research were submitted in response to a recent DOE RFP, include industry responses for work in both the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico. While requesting $28 million from DOE, the proposals also include $17 [million] in cost sharing. Production Several methods of producing natural gas from hydrate deposits have been proposed. More studies are needed in order to assess the relative merits of each technology for any specific hydrate occurrence. There are no huge technology barriers to methane hydrate production, although it is uncertain that hydrate production will be commercially viable. A better understanding of methane hydrate deposits is needed before the commercial potential of methane hydrate production can be determined for the United States. Methane hydrates may form barriers to permeability that could create stratigraphic traps for conventional gas production. Developing better methods of remote imaging of hydrates could therefore lead to significant new conventional gas production.

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States The permafrost regions offer the most promising methane hydrate resource potential in the near term because of existing infrastructure and because higher concentrations of methane hydrate have been identified there compared with those in oceanic sediments. Global Carbon Cycle and Climate Change The role of methane hydrates in global climate is not well understood, and is inconsistently included in models of global climate change. Given that methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and that hydrates are an enormous global reservoir for methane, additional studies on this issue should be a high priority. The committee recommends that such studies view hydrate as part of the broader cycle of methane between sediment, ocean, and atmosphere. Expulsion of methane from collapse and landslide events through geologic time may have added significant amounts of methane to the atmosphere. The risk of such an event happening today is not known, and merits further assessment. The mechanism for these releases is unclear. In addition to large events of methane release, there appear to be frequent small release events. A valuable area of study would be a determination of the frequency of all scales of release events, and the determination of the magnitude of a 100-year event. While the development of methane hydrate as a resource will result in CO2 emissions, natural gas from hydrate can also displace fossil fuels that produce more CO2 per unit of energy produced as well as SO2. This should result in an overall reduction in CO2 and SO2 emissions. Safety and Sea Floor Stability Studies of sub-sea landslides and collapse features suggest a possible link to underlying methane hydrates. These events could have serious consequences for coastal areas and offshore operations. More

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States research is needed to confirm this link and assess the risk of future events. Over 1,000 wells have been drilled in the Gulf of Mexico at sites where sediments could contain methane hydrate. While no adverse effects of hydrate disassociation have been documented, the long-term impact of offshore operations on hydrate-bearing sediment is not fully understood. While the commercial development of methane hydrate in the United States will be focused on the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico, methane hydrates are also abundant on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. A full understanding of the role of methane hydrates in slope stability and global climate change will require broadly based studies. It is possible that hydrate-bearing sediments are susceptible to slope failure due to seismic events. This relationship bears further investigation. There is a need for a concerted effort to document landslide and collapse features in the geologic record that are linked to methane hydrates. The greatest opportunities for U.S. commercial production of gas from hydrates are in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Slope of Alaska. These areas also have the highest potential for safety issues related to natural hydrate occurrences, although drilling and producing operations have been successfully undertaken for many years through hydrate-bearing sediments in these areas. Current geophysical techniques for estimating hydrate concentrations in a given location are unreliable. Environmental Characterization Our knowledge of living systems associated with methane hydrate accumulations is incomplete. This gap in our knowledge will likely delay any commercial development of methane hydrates. The Minerals Management Service and other agencies are encouraged to increase the pace of this research.

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States Program Management The Committee strongly agreed that the proposed funding level of $4.75 Million per year would not answer the questions raised in P.L. 106-193. A preliminary estimate of $10-25 million per year over 5 years was seen as providing for a characterization of the resource potential and an assessment of potential hazards. Among the proposed activities included in P.L. 106-193 is exploratory drilling. While the Committee considers drilling and coring of hydrate-bearing sediments to be of critical importance to the success of the program, these activities are expensive and the funding levels currently proposed for the program are insufficient to include drillling, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico. The opportunities and issues related to methane hydrates are deemed sufficiently valid that gas hydrate programs are currently being conducted at several Federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, the Naval Research Laboratory, the Minerals Management Service, and several of the DOE laboratories. All of these programs, however, are being conducted at very low budget levels. There are significant opportunities for collaboration between industry, universities, and government agencies on methane hydrate research. A more efficient use of limited funds can be realized through improvements of web-based sharing of data. A knowledge-sharing system designed along the lines of the DOE’s successful CO2 database would be valuable. A significant gap exists in the U.S. between resources & researchers, with some of the most creative researchers not having the assets or resources required to carry out important work. The committee discussed the problems associated with low funding levels for methane hydrate research and considered several approaches for optimizing the use of DOE funds. One that had broad support was for the DOE to have more specific deliverables included in Requests For Proposals. Individuals or organizations could submit proposals to achieve those deliverables, and the DOE could then make awards based on who best could undertake that work.

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States Due to an early recognition of their energy issues and of methane hydrate opportunities, several countries have initiated extensive methane hydrate programs. These include Japan, India, Canada, Taiwan, and Germany. DOE participation in foreign methane hydrate operations has been a cost-effective means of obtaining valuable information. Continued collaboration is strongly encouraged.

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States LETTER DATED DECEMBER 17, 2001 The Honorable Spencer Abraham Secretary U.S. Department of Energy 1000 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, DC 20585-1000 December 17, 2002 Dear Mr. Secretary, In accordance with the provisions of the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000, a Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee was created in November 2000 to advise you on a number of issues involving methane hydrate. The Committee had its second meeting on November 13 and 14, 2002. This letter summarizes the Committee’s discussions and provides you with its best judgment for sustaining and improving this important area of knowledge. In addition, the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000 required that the Committee prepare a report assessing the potential impact on global climate change from methane hydrate formation, methane hydrate degassing, and consumption of natural gas produced from methane hydrates. This report is now in press. The Committee reviewed the Federal methane hydrate research program and has concluded that the program has been very successful. We have seen significant progress in all areas of investigation during the past three years. In particular Arctic methane hydrate production is expected within several years on a limited basis. Yet, most of the main goals are still at an early stage. The Committee strongly recommends that the Federal Methane Hydrate R&D program be continued. While the Committee endorses the program, it also identified the following opportunities for improving and expanding the program: The level of coordination between the Federal agencies involved in the hydrate program has been critical to the rapid pace of

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States progress. The Committee has observed, however, that opportunities for enhancing cooperation remain and should be explored. An interagency partnership would improve program efficiency. Joint industry, academia, and government activities have been especially effective at addressing methane hydrate issues. The Committee recommends that the use of such programs be expanded. Raw data developed in hydrate studies needs [sic] to be archived more promptly and effectively in an accessible, electronic format. The program would benefit from a single point of entry into various databases, with all methane hydrate data readily available to researchers. Adequate levels of support are needed to ensure that environmental studies are undertaken to develop and demonstrate the effectiveness of mitigation measures that will need to accompany commercial extraction of hydrates when it occurs. The Minerals Management Service will need to review and revise its processes for resource evaluation as hydrates become a commercial resource so that the government receives appropriate bonuses and royalties. Past funding projections have proven to be valid and have resulted in the success of the Federal methane hydrate program. The activities planned for the next several years are an important aspect of the overall program (including field work, laboratory studies and modeling), and will require a significant increase in funding level. Sincerely, Arthur H. Johnson, Chair Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee

OCR for page 177
Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States Attachment Membership of the Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee Peter Brewer Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute Richard Charter Environmental Defense Gerald Holder University of Pittsburgh Stephen Holditch Schlumberger Technology Corp. Arthur Johnson Hydrate Energy International Miriam Kastner Scripps Institution of Oceanography University of California, San Diego Devinder Mahajan Brookhaven National Laboratory William Parrish ConocoPhillips Harry Roberts Louisiana State University Carolyn Ruppel Georgia Institute of Technology Sabrina Watkins ConocoPhillips