Environmental Protection

New Research Shows Gas Hydrates as Future Energy Resource

In collaboration between the USGS, BOEM, and the DOE, scientists have completed a 15-day research expedition in the northern Gulf of Mexico with high-resolution seismic data and imagery of sediments with high gas hydrate saturations.

Gas hydrates are ice-like substances that form when certain gases combine with water at specific pressures and temperatures. Deposits of gas hydrates are widespread in marine sediments beneath the ocean floor and in sediments within and beneath permafrost areas, where pressure-temperature conditions keep the gas trapped in the hydrate structure. Methane is the gas most often trapped in these deposits, making gas hydrates a potentially significant source for natural gas around the world.

“This expedition represents a significant milestone,” said USGS Energy Resources Program Coordinator Brenda Pierce. “The data and imagery provide insight into the entire petroleum system at each location, including the source of gas, the migration pathways for the gas, the distribution of hydrate-bearing sediments, and the traps that hold the hydrate and free gas in place. The USGS has a globally recognized research effort studying gas hydrates in settings around the world, and this project combines our unique expertise with that of other agencies to advance research on this potential future energy resource.” 

Using low-energy seismic sources, USGS scientists collected details about the nature of the gas hydrate reservoirs and about geologic features of the sediment between the reservoirs and the seafloor. The new data also provide information about how much gas hydrate exists in a much broader area than can be determined from using standard industry seismic data, which is typically designed to image much deeper geologic units. The completed expedition was planned jointly by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and was executed by USGS.  

The new data are being used to refine estimates of the nature, distribution, and concentration of gas hydrate in the vicinity of the 2009 drill sites, which will help assess how useful specialized seismic data may be to estimating hydrate saturations in deep water sediments. The three agencies plan on continuing their collaborative investigation of gas hydrates in the northern Gulf of Mexico and other locations across the world.

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