5
Scientific Oversight of the DOE Methane Hydrate Research and Development Program

Competent and rigorous scientific oversight is a key element to the overall success of any research and development endeavor. The Methane Hydrate Research and Development (R&D) Act of 2000 mandated the establishment of an advisory panel as well as a group to coordinate research activities between the agencies that do hydrate-related research. This chapter discusses the roles of these committees as well as how science can benefit the program and proposal process. Implementing the recommendations in earlier chapters and meeting the goals of the act will not be possible without addressing issues of increased scientific oversight utilizing the advisory panels and external program and proposal reviews.

THE METHANE HYDRATE ADVISORY COMMITTEE

The Methane Hydrate R&D Act of 2000 (Appendix B) required the Secretary of Energy to establish an advisory panel (Box 5.1). As described in the act, the role of the advisory panel is intended to be integral to the Methane Hydrate R&D Program and an important component in establishing the program. The first Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee (MHAC; 2000-2003) consisted of 12 members with backgrounds representative of industry, academia, and government



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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States 5 Scientific Oversight of the DOE Methane Hydrate Research and Development Program Competent and rigorous scientific oversight is a key element to the overall success of any research and development endeavor. The Methane Hydrate Research and Development (R&D) Act of 2000 mandated the establishment of an advisory panel as well as a group to coordinate research activities between the agencies that do hydrate-related research. This chapter discusses the roles of these committees as well as how science can benefit the program and proposal process. Implementing the recommendations in earlier chapters and meeting the goals of the act will not be possible without addressing issues of increased scientific oversight utilizing the advisory panels and external program and proposal reviews. THE METHANE HYDRATE ADVISORY COMMITTEE The Methane Hydrate R&D Act of 2000 (Appendix B) required the Secretary of Energy to establish an advisory panel (Box 5.1). As described in the act, the role of the advisory panel is intended to be integral to the Methane Hydrate R&D Program and an important component in establishing the program. The first Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee (MHAC; 2000-2003) consisted of 12 members with backgrounds representative of industry, academia, and government

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States Box 5.1 The Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000 Requirement for a Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee The Secretary shall establish an advisory panel consisting of experts from industrial enterprises, institutions of higher education, and Federal agencies to— advise the Secretary on potential applications of methane hydrate; assist in developing recommendations and priorities for the methane hydrate research and development program carried out under subsection (a)(1); and not later than 2 years after the date of the enactment of this Act, and at such later dates as the panel considers advisable, submit to Congress a report on the anticipated impact on global climate change from— methane hydrate formation; methane hydrate degassing (including natural degassing and degassing associated with commercial development); and the consumption of natural gas produced from methane hydrates. SOURCE: P.L. 106-193, Section 3c. The broad expertise of the committee was needed to develop recommendations and priorities for research being undertaken by the program and to fulfill the requirement that the panel provide a report on the impacts of climate change. The first MHAC was appointed in November 2000. Its first meeting occurred in May 2001—one year after the act was approved, most of the goals of the program had been defined, and the request for proposals (RFPs) had been developed. The committee met for a second and final time in November 2002, even though its term of appointment actually ended in May 2003. Addressing this committee at an open meeting, the

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States MHAC chair indicated that MHAC interpreted its role as that of advocacy for the program rather than scientific leadership (Johnson, 2003). The Methane Hydrate R&D Act required the MHAC to submit a report to Congress on possible impacts of hydrate on global climate change no later than two years from the date the act was passed. The first MHAC determined that members with the expertise to prepare such a report were otherwise committed and could not deliver the report in the time required by the act. Therefore, they commissioned a consultant to prepare a report on the effects of methane hydrate releases on global climate change (Kennett, 2002). This report, written by a single author, focuses on a somewhat controversial (Dickens, 2003b) hypothesis (the “clathrate gun hypothesis”) that methane hydrate played a critical role in abrupt climate warming during the Quaternary (MHAC, 2002a). This report was incorporated as an appendix to the MHAC report submitted to Congress in December 2002 (MHAC, 2002a). By submitting this report, the MHAC fulfilled the mandate of the act to produce a report on climate change; however, the report does not provide a balanced discussion of models proposed by other researchers. During its tenure, the first MHAC also submitted two letters to Secretary Abraham (Appendix H). The first letter, dated June 1, 2001, summarized the MHAC’s views on the importance of gas hydrate and stated that the funding provided was inadequate to carry out the legislative mandate. The second letter, dated December 17, 2002, presented the MHAC’s evaluation of the progress of the Methane Hydrate R&D Program and stated that the program had been successful and productive, but could be improved. In particular, the letter noted the following opportunities for improving and expanding the program that echo the findings in this report (MHAC, 2002b; both letters are provided in Appendix H): The level of coordination between federal agencies involved in the hydrate program has been critical to its rapid progress. However, 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 in addressing methane hydrate issues, and the use of such programs should be expanded. Raw data developed in hydrate studies must be archived more promptly and effectively in an accessible, electronic format.

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States Adequate levels of support are needed to ensure that environmental studies are undertaken to develop and demonstrate the effectiveness of mitigation measures that will have to accompany commercial extraction of hydrate if and when it occurs. In December 2003, the Department of Energy (DOE) appointed a new MHAC with 10 members, rather than 12, and 2 new members. Eight original members of the MHAC remain. More than 60 percent of the FY 2004 DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program funding was awarded to institutions with affiliations to 6 of the 10 members currently serving on the MHAC. Returning members of the MHAC who gave presentations at open meetings of the committee indicated that they still remain unclear about their role in the program. The DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program could have made more effective use of the original members of the MHAC and given them more support to carry out their charge as mandated by the Methane Hydrate R&D Act. The program would benefit from the current MHAC’s scientific advice and perspective on activities ultimately funded by the hydrate research program. However, members should follow accepted conflict-of-interest procedures and should recuse themselves from participating in review and funding discussions directly related to their own research or institutions. The MHAC implementation structure should be improved to allow the committee to take a significant role in providing guidance and recommendations on research priorities. Implementing these changes will help ensure that the goals of the Methane Hydrate R&D Program are being met with the best scientific input provided in a timely fashion. THE INTERAGENCY COORDINATING COMMITTEE AND THE TECHNICAL COORDINATING TEAM In addition to the MHAC, the Methane Hydrate R&D Act of 2000 called for interagency coordination in methane hydrate research and development (Box 5.2). In response, the head of each agency designated individuals to serve on an Interagency Coordinating Committee (ICC) (Appendix I). Member agencies within this group are: the Department of Energy (DOE), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States Naval Research Laboratory, Minerals Management Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and National Science Foundation. The individuals designated to coordinate activities under the act are required to meet every 120 days and charged with (1) reviewing the progress of the program, and (2) making recommendations on future activities (P.L. 106-193 Section 3(a)). While this charge overlaps significantly with the charge of the MHAC, the purpose of the ICC meetings is to avoid duplication of effort and to collaborate on past, present, and future work being conducted by each agency. At the first meeting of the ICC, in January 2001, each member of the panel reported on current methane hydrate activities within his or her agency and made recommendations regarding future mechanisms for interagency coordination. In addition, the ICC determined that an interagency Technical Coordinating Team (TCT) consisting of administrative program managers of the hydrate research group within each agency (when applicable) should be established (Appendix I). The TCT first met in March 2001. Typically, the ICC meets once a year and the TCT meets at least twice a year or more often when planning workshops or writing reports (B. Tomer, DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory, Morgantown, West Virginia, personal communication, 2004). These meetings are generally used to discuss implementation of research plans. Members of the ICC and TCT attend meetings of the MHAC and often make presentations. For example, the ICC met jointly with the MHAC in Massachusetts in May 2001 and in Washington, D.C., in November 2002. However, there is currently no formal affiliation between the TCT and the MHAC. The TCT, in its role as the “operating arm” of the ICC, has performed some of the tasks envisioned in the act for the ICC—for example, preparing reports on the goals of gas hydrate research, developing budgets for jointly funded R&D, and planning joint field programs. Overall coordination by senior agency administrators appears to working well. The TCT is to be commended for the clear gains the program has derived from this coordination. There are sure to be major scientific rewards for the program if members of the TCT can continue to work together leveraging their resources. However, the TCT has not played a role in reviewing the progress of the Methane Hydrate R&D Program or provided advice on future directions (D. Hutchinson, U.S. Geological Survey, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, personal communication, 2004). DOE should redefine or change the roles of the ICC and TCT to make them more effective in

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States Box 5.2 Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000 Requirement for Interagency Coordination IN GENERAL.— COMMENCEMENT OF PROGRAM.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary, in consultation with the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Director, shall commence a program of methane hydrate research and development in accordance with this section. DESIGNATIONS—The Secretary, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Director shall designate individuals to carry out this section. COORDINATION—The individual designated by the Secretary shall coordinate all activities within the Department of Energy relating to methane hydrate research and development. MEETINGS—The individuals designated under paragraph (2) shall meet not later than 270 days after the date of the enactment of this Act and not less frequently than every 120 days thereafter to— review the progress of the program under paragraph (1); and make recommendations on future activities to occur subsequent to the meeting. SOURCE: P.L. 106-193, Section 3(a). providing scientific guidance to the program. The TCT should work closely with the MHAC to evaluate ongoing programs and set new directions for priorities. SCIENCE IN THE PROJECT SELECTION PROCESS To select projects for funding, the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program currently uses a “merit-based review” of proposals submitted through either RFPs or broad-based solicitations. The merit review consists of input from DOE project managers responsible for managing

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States proposals to the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program. Currently, the project managers reviewing these proposals have responsibilities in other research areas. This internal, merit-based, DOE review process is not as effective as it could be in examining the program as a whole and ensuring that overall program goals are met. While merit-based reviews are consistent with the language in the act, the additional use of external peer reviewers in the project selection process would serve to assess progress toward program goals, evaluate program balance, aid in the perception of fairness to the research community, provide scientific guidance to program managers, and perhaps improve the quality of the program. A panel of external reviewers should consist of working scientists chosen to minimize conflicts of interest while providing appropriate scientific expertise. The purpose of the panel would be to provide scientific expertise and facilitate examination of each proposal with regard to intrinsic scientific merit, overall program objectives, and future directions. Essentially, this is a form of the process followed by National Science Foundation (NSF) in obtaining advice on which projects are funded. This process is well respected by the science community. In addition to external review of proposals, the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program should initiate a formal review of projects each year to help guide their direction and make decisions on future projects. The DOE, through the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), should continue to make program summaries of funded projects available (as was done to enable this report) and updated regularly on the NETL Web site (http://www.netl.doe.gov/scng/hydrate/index.html). These summaries are a valuable tool in assessing overall program direction and breadth. SUMMARY The DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program has effectively advanced a number of research and development goals to determine the production potential of gas hydrate as a future energy resource and to assess potential geohazards associated with disturbance of gas hydrate deposits. A troubling aspect of the program as outlined throughout this report is a lack of scientific oversight in the identification, initiation, tracking, and evaluation of the success and relevance of major program elements. This has had a particular impact on the success of targeted research projects

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States due to incomplete reporting of results, inadequate project accountability, and failure to reach stated goals. These projects were approved without expert external scientific review to evaluate whether they were relevant to the overall goals of the program or if they were likely to meet their specific goals. A lack of scientific oversight in the selection, initiation, monitoring, and assessment of major projects funded by the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program could be addressed by adoption of a scientific review and decision-making process. The safeguards of a scientific review and assessment apparatus should be applied to all types of projects funded by the program. To help meet the goals of the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program the following practices should be instituted: A conflict-of-interest (COI) protocol should be drafted that is applicable to the MHAC. This statement would require members of the MHAC to recuse themselves from programmatic discussions and decisions if the outcome might affect their employer and/or other financial interests. All projects over a defined dollar level should be submitted to external review following appropriate guidelines and procedures (e.g., those of NSF), and the comments and recommendations received should be evaluated by the MHAC or a similar body in compliance with COI protocol. The purview and responsibilities of the MHAC, ICC, and TCT committees should be clearly defined with respect to each other, and their efforts should be clearly aligned to eliminate any confusion in how proposed projects are received, evaluated, authorized, monitored, and assessed. A set of instructions and guidelines outlining the requirement for timely and full disclosure of project results should be provided to project applicants. As much as practical, these instructions should include the consequences of noncompliance. The Secretary of Energy formed an Advisory Board Task Force to advise him on the future of science programs at the Department of Energy (DOE, 2003b). Greater scientific oversight of the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program is consistent with recommendations of the October 2003 report Critical Choices: Science, Energy, and Security, which stated that “the DOE is a major science agency, but this fact is not

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Charting the Future of Methane Hydrate Research in the United States obviously reflected in its organizational structure” (DOE, 2003b, p. 16). One important recommendation of the Advisory Board was that “to recognize the centrality of science to its mission, the Department of Energy should have an Under Secretary for Science. Attendant organizational changes should be made to better accomplish that scientific mission” (DOE, 2003b, p. 18). FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Findings The advisory committees established by the Methane Hydrate R&D Act (the MHAC and ICC) have not had a major impact on evaluating the progress and priorities of the program as mandated by the act. The internal, merit-based DOE review process used to select projects for funding is not as effective as it could be in examining the program as a whole and ensuring that overall program goals are met. Recommendations The purview and responsibilities of the MHAC, ICC, and TCT committees should be clearly defined with respect to each other, and their efforts should be clearly aligned to eliminate any confusion in how proposed projects are received, evaluated, authorized, monitored, and assessed. All projects above a defined dollar level should be submitted to external review following appropriate guidelines and procedures (e.g., those of NSF), and the comments and recommendations received should be evaluated by the MHAC or similar body in keeping with the conflict-of-interest protocol. The DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program should implement a mechanism to incorporate greater scientific oversight to assess progress toward program goals, evaluate program balance, and enhance the quality of the program over time. This can be accomplished by initiating external proposal and program reviews.

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