US confirms major gas hydrate finds in Gulf of Mexico

29 May 2009 19:56  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US Gulf of Mexico territories contain very large and predictable concentrations of gas hydrates that have potential for commercial development with current technology, federal officials said on Friday.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said that seven test wells drilled in three Gulf areas confirmed that there are “very thick and concentrated gas hydrate-bearing sand and rock reservoirs which have the potential to produce gas using current technology”.

Brenda Peirce, energy programme co-ordinator for USGS, said the test drilling confirmed that geologists can successfully identify subsea resource-quality concentrations of gas hydrates.

When heated, the hydrates release methane, the principal component of natural gas.

While the methane gas from hydrates would not directly benefit the general petrochemicals industry - which needs the ethane from conventional natural gas for feedstock - it could be the raw material for methanol production. 

Perhaps more significantly, a large influx of hydrates gas into the North American energy marketplace would help drive down prices for the natural gas feeds so important to chemical producers.

“This is an exciting discovery because for the first time in the US Gulf of Mexico, we were able to predict hydrate accumulations before drilling, and we discovered thick, gas hydrate-saturated sands that actually represent energy targets,” Pierce said.

USGS scientist Timothy Collett said the test wells in the Gulf  “also found gas hydrates in a range of settings, including sand reservoirs, thick sequences of fracture-filling gas hydrates in shales, and potential partially saturated gas hydrates in younger systems”.

Gas hydrates represent a vast potential for future energy resources, the USGS said.

Collett cited estimates by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) of some 21,436,000bn cubic feet (bcf) - or 21.4 quadrillion cubic feet - of gas hydrates in US Gulf territories.

Of that total estimate, some 6,710,000 bcf of gas hydrates are to be found in relatively highly concentrated accumulations in sand reservoirs, with the balance in clay-dominated sediments, according to the service.

The US consumes about 23,000 bcf of natural gas annually.

Although gas hydrates in the Gulf - and similar concentrations recently demonstrated in Arctic regions of Alaska - hold great potential as energy resources, Collett cautioned that commercial recovery is some years off.

“We could expect the first production test in the GOM [Gulf of Mexico] within the next four to five years,” Collett said, “with a goal to understand the possible range of production responses of marine gas hydrates around 2015.”

“But when marine gas hydrates may actually become commercial is unknown,” he said.

The Gulf test wells were drilled by a group of US and international energy firms under the management of Chevron and in co-operation with the US Department of Energy (DOE) along with USGS and MMS.  Both USGS and MMS are part of the US Department of the Interior.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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