An unconventional form of natural gas (also known as methane calthrate, hydromethane, methane ice, natural gas hydrate, and "the ice that burns"), methane hydrate presents exciting potential as an energy resource in Alaska. Based on a study in 2008, the USGS completed an assessment of gas hydrates on the Alaska North Slope estimating that there are about 85 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of undiscovered, technically recoverable gas resources in the form of gas hydrates in northern Alaska.1
How Methane Hydrate Works
Gas hydrates occur abundantly in nature in Arctic regions and marine sediments. A methane hydrate is a cage-like lattice of ice inside of which are trapped molecules of methane, the main component of natural gas. If methane hydrate is either warmed or depressurized, it will revert back to water and natural gas; when brought to the earth's surface, one cubic meter of gas hydrate releases 164 cubic meters of natural gas.2
Challenges of Methane Hydrate
Because gas hydrates are found in Arctic and deep marine environments, drilling for these hydrates could be challenging. Methane is considered to be a contributor to global climate change and hydrates contain very concentrated methane; the consequences of drilling for gas hydrates is still being studied.
Methane Hydrate in Alaska
In April 2011, ConocoPhillips, Alaska, Inc., (with the permission of the Prudhoe Bay Unit Working Interest Owners and as part of an ongoing cooperative research agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy) successfully installed the Iġnik Sikumi #1 Gas Hydrate Test Well in Prudhoe Bay. This well enables a field trial of potential gas hydrate production technology.3 If this and other projects are carried out in all phases, they will be the first extended studies of methane hydrate production in the U.S.
Methane hydrate technology is still largely underdeveloped, though test wells and other studies are uncovering more about the potential use of the resource as an energy source.
Manufacturers and Producers
Methane Hydrates in Prudhoe Bay
ConocoPhillips' Iġnik Sikumi #1 gas hydrate test well injects carbon dioxide (CO2) into gas hydrate-bearing sandstone reservoirs, resulting in a chemical exchange reaction that releases methane (CH4) and simultaneously sequesters CO2 in a solid hydrate structure as CO2-hydrate.4 To see an image of the well schematic, see Figure 1.
Links and Resources
- The National Methane Hydrates R&D Program (DOE/NETL Methane Hydrate Projects). Alaska North Slope Gas Hydrate Reservoir Characterization: "The goal of this project is to characterize the large in-place methane hydrate resource on the Alaska North Slope (ANS) and to conduct field and lab studies to determine the potential for methane, produced from hydrate, to become a viable part of the overall energy supply."
- NETL: Methane Hydrate R&D Program Newsletter. From the webpage: "The methane hydrate newsletter, Fire in the Ice, is a quarterly publication highlighting the latest developments in international gas hydrates R&D. Fire in the Ice promotes the exchange of information amoung those involved in gas hydrates research and development, and also recognizes the efforts of a hydrate researcher in each issue. The newsletter now reaches nearly 1300 scientists and other interested individuals in sixteen countries."
- The Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee. From the webpage: "The Committee is to advise the Secretary of Energy on potential applications of methane hydrate; assist in developing recommendations and priorities for the methane hydrate research and development program; and submit to Congress one or more reports on an assessment of the research program and an assessment of the DOE 5-year research plan."
- "Energy Resource Potential of Methane Hydrate: An Introduction to the Science and Energy Potential of a Unique Resource." National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) released a brochure in February 2011 to provide a simple and comprehensive of what methane hydrate is, where it can be found, it's potential as an energy resource, and recent research activities.
Methane Hydrate News
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