Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Methane hydrate has become the focus of international attention because of the vast potential for human use worldwide. If methane can be produced from hydrate, a reasonable assumption given that there are no obvious technical or engineering roadblocks to commercial production, the nation's natural gas energy supply could be extended for many years to come. However, some technical and engineering challenges would have to be solved and more research associated with the uncertainties of hydrate production would have to take place before commercial production could begin. This report reviews the Department of Energy's Methane Hydrate Research and Development Program and makes recommendations on how the Program could be improved.

Key Messages

  • Although the issues vary, the committee's review of the industry-managed, targeted research projects raises concerns about each that could limit the ability of these projects to contribute to the goals of the program.
  • Although the total amount of methane trapped in gas hydrate is not well known, it is generally believed that gas hydrate has the potential to become a fossil fuel resource and a possible factor in climate change and submarine slope stability.
  • No projects have been funded in the area of transportation and storage. None of the projects emphasized education and training.
  • Research projects only minimally addressed the area of environmental impacts of degassing (decomposition as the solid-state hydrate transforms to gaseous methane and liquid water), and its potential for affecting climate.
  • The DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program funded research on identifying, exploring, assessing, and developing methane hydrate as a source of energy (research area A); assisting in developing technologies for efficient and environmentally sound development (research area B); developing technologies to reduce the risk of drilling (research area F); and conducting exploratory drilling (research area G).
  • The DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program has funded a number of small-scale R&D projects through its proposal process. Some of these have had a major technological impact. The results of many of these projects have not been published, and therefore, they could not be thoroughly evaluated.
  • The USGS has a long history of gas hydrate research (in both the laboratory and the field) and collaboration, which has provided basic and essential information on the chemistry and occurrence of gas hydrate.
  • The advisory committees established by the Methane Hydrate R&D Act of 2000 (the MHAC and ICC) have not played a major role in 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.
  • Unless substantially greater resources are devoted to the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program, the United States may fall behind other nations in leading hydrate development technology.
  • Relative to the United States, other countries (e.g., Japan) are spending significantly more money on hydrate research.
  • geological constraints on drilling hydrate. Given sufficient in-place reserves, there are no obvious technical or engineering roadblocks to prevent commercial production of gas from hydrate in the future. However, there are some technical and engineering challenges that have to be solved before commercial production could begin.