sphere, but at varying concentrations. However, whether methane once stored as methane hydrate has contributed to past climate change or will play a role in the future global climate remains unclear. The potential local environmental impacts associated with either natural or human-caused seepage of methane from methane hydrate are also poorly understood and need to be differentiated from other seepage processes before methane is commercially produced from methane hydrate. Potential impacts include gas leakage to the ocean, land surface, or atmosphere, settling of the seafloor or ground around a well, and effects on biological communities at the sea-floor or on the land surface. Although methane hydrate is also commonly perceived as posing geohazard risks to industry, little documentation exists to constrain the extent and magnitude of these potential risks. Present industry practice is to try to avoid methane hydrate–bearing areas during drilling and production for conventional oil and gas resources. The current industry approach of avoidance will be untenable if methane hydrate itself becomes the production target.

Although several U.S. federal agencies conduct significant research on methane hydrate, the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Methane Hydrate Research and Development Program (hereafter “the Program”), established through the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-193), and reauthorized in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58), has been tasked specifically to implement and coordinate a national methane hydrate research effort. The Program is directed specifically to understand the

  • Physical nature of methane hydrate occurrences;

  • Methods to quantify and explore for methane hydrate deposits;

  • Stability and behavior of methane hydrate when disturbed by drilling and production;

  • Technological requirements to produce methane from methane hydrate; and

  • Potential impacts of methane from methane hydrate deposits venting into the environment during methane production or in response to natural changes in the environment.

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