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.

Natural gas, composed mostly of methane, is the cleanest of all the fossil fuels, emitting 25-50% less carbon dioxide than either oil or coal for each unit of energy produced. Methane hydrate, a naturally occurring solid form of methane and water found in Arctic permafrost areas and along most of the world's offshore continental margins, is a potentially enormous and as yet untapped source of methane. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is leading the national effort to conduct research on the potential of augmenting U.S. energy supplies with methane from methane hydrate, Studies supported through the DOE have advanced understanding of how to identify, drill, and produce methane from methane hydrate and have generated optimism that producing the methane is technically feasible. This report evaluates the status of the DOE program and identifies the key questions for future research.

Key Messages

  • Although several nations, including the United States, have extensive, ongoing methane hydrate research programs, considerably more information is needed about this "unconventional" energy resource before commercial production can be realized.
  • Experimental and modeling research supported by the Program has added to the ability to evaluate methane hydrate resources and to help predict how methane hydrate will behave during production.
  • In light of the scientific challenges posed by methane hydrate for the international research community, The Department of Energy's Methane Hydrate Research and Development Program has supported and managed a high-quality research portfolio that has enabled significant progress toward long-term goals.
  • Program management has been consistent and effective during the past five years, having worked to increase the success of the research it funds, supported education and training of young researchers, and enhanced collaborative efforts with other research entities.
  • The Program has strengthened the transparency of its activities, notably through implementation of a peer-review process for ongoing research projects and increased communication with the public and the global research community.
  • To better meet its goals of assessing the potential of the long-term production of methane from methane hydrate, DOE should aim to expand future research in several areas: (1) the designing and demonstrating of production technologies in the field that can sustain the flow of methane gas from methane hydrate deposits over long periods of time; (2) evaluating and predicting the environmental and safety issues related to production of methane from methane hydrate; (3) reducing the uncertainty that remains in locating and identifying the size of methane hydrate deposits, including the potential volume of methane that might be
  • To support the design of production technologies, the report recommends long-term field production tests in different locations, as well as monitoring the behavior of methane hydrate deposits and surrounding sediments before, during, and after production.