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U.S., Japan Successfully Test Methane Hydrate Technologies
May 4, 2012

May 3, 2012

Putting mud into a plastic bag
This file photo from the U.S. Geological Survey shows a core sample of mud containing methane hydrates.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced May 2 the completion of a successful test of technology in the North Slope region of Alaska that was able to safely extract a steady flow of natural gas from methane hydrates.

The Energy Department partnered with ConocoPhillips Company and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation to conduct a test of natural gas extraction from methane hydrate using a unique production technology, developed through laboratory collaboration between the University of Bergen, Norway, and ConocoPhillips.

Methane hydrates are ice structures with natural gas locked inside. They are found both onshore and offshore, including under the Arctic permafrost and in ocean sediments along nearly every continental shelf in the world, the Energy Department said in a press release.

Building upon this small-scale test, the department said it is launching a new research effort to conduct a long-term production test in the Arctic as well as research to test additional technologies that could be used to locate and safely extract methane hydrates on a larger scale off the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“While this is just the beginning, this research could potentially yield significant new supplies of natural gas,” Chu said.

The proof-of-concept test ran February 15 to April 10. The team injected a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen into the formation, and demonstrated that this mixture could promote the production of natural gas. Scientists are analyzing the data to determine if the technique can also be used to store carbon dioxide in the ice.


The Energy Department announced two new steps May 2:

• The department is making $6.5 million available in 2012 for research into technologies to locate and safely extract natural gas from methane hydrate formations like those in the Arctic and along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Projects will address direct sampling or remote sensing of deepwater gas hydrates; new tools and methods for monitoring, collecting and analyzing data to determine the reservoir response and the environmental impacts related to methane hydrate production; and clarifying the role in the environment of methane hydrates, including their response to warming climates.

• As part of President Obama’s budget proposal for 2013, the department is requesting an additional $5 million for gas hydrates research both domestically and in collaboration with international partners. That could include a longer test of extraction in the North Slope, which would again require work with private-sector and international partners.