Once projects are funded and become part of the Program portfolio, they undergo a merit review process. External reviewers from the methane hydrate community are selected to evaluate project quality, relevance, progress, and results. As in the Program’s selection process, the internal review team uses feedback from the external review to create consensus evaluations of each project. Currently, reviews alternate annually, with cooperative agreements assessed in one year and interagency agreements and FWPs in the subsequent year. DOE is considering a plan to consolidate the two reviews into a full program review (of cooperative and interagency agreements, and FWPs) to maximize data exchange between different projects within the portfolio.
Fundamentally new research is being undertaken on a number of fronts by the Program, particularly in the field projects where new types of exploration and drilling of test wells are being evaluated and conducted and which require significant planning, coordination, and resources. Factors such as land permitting and land ownership, and in offshore areas, drill rig availability, are key aspects to conducting successful drilling activities, but are not directly under the Program’s or industry partners’ influence to control. Delays in any of these aspects of a drilling expedition may delay a project’s schedule and acquisition of results.
To address some of these practical challenges, the Program has incorporated some flexibility in its oversight of projects; for example, the Program coordinates its research projects in phases rather than strictly by a fiscal- or calendar-year schedule (see Chapter 3 for examples). At a phase transition, both parties to the agreement (the Program management and the project research partner) may evaluate the progress and relevance of the work and make adjustments to schedules and costs. The decision to move into the next project phase is made by the project research partner by submitting an application to the Program for continuation of the project, with a description of changes, if any, to the research plan (DOE/NETL, 2008).
Although the newly introduced peer reviews and other forms of periodic reporting by the performers to the Program are positive additions to Program management and project oversight, the committee notes that the large field projects, in particular, may benefit from more