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Gas Hydrates in Alaska

Recent discoveries and changed conditions have increased interest in Alaska’s reserves of methane gas hydrates. A new Congressional Research Service report:

Gas Hydrates: Resource and Hazard
November 26, 2008

has this to say in its summary:

Solid gas hydrates are a potentially huge resource of natural gas for the United States. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that there are about 85 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of technically recoverable gas hydrates in northern Alaska. The Minerals Management Service estimated a mean value of 21,000 TCF of in-place gas hydrates in the Gulf of Mexico. By comparison, total U.S. natural gas consumption is about 23 TCF annually. The in-place estimate disregards technical or economical recoverability, and likely overestimates the amount of commercially viable gas hydrates. Even if a fraction of the U.S. gas hydrates can be economically produced, however, it could add substantially to the 1,300 TCF of technically recoverable U.S. conventional natural gas reserves. To date, however, gas hydrates have no confirmed commercial production. Gas hydrates are both a potential resource and a risk, representing a significant hazard to conventional oil and gas drilling and production operations. If the solid gas hydrates dissociate suddenly and release expanded gas during offshore drilling, they could disrupt the marine sediments and compromise pipelines and production equipment on the seafloor. The tendency of gas hydrates to dissociate and release methane, which can be a hazard, is the same characteristic that research and development efforts strive to enhance so that methane can be produced and recovered in commercial quantities. Developing gas hydrates into a commercially viable source of energy is a goal of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) methane hydrate program, initially authorized by the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-193). The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58, Subtitle F, � 968) extended the authorization through FY2010 and authorized total appropriations of $155 million over a five-year period. Gas hydrates occur naturally onshore in permafrost, and at or below the seafloor in sediments where water and gas combine at low temperatures and high pressures to form an ice-like solid substance.1 Methane, or natural gas, is typically the dominant gas in the hydrate structure. In a gas hydrate, frozen water molecules form a cage-like structure around high concentrations of natural gas. The gas hydrate structure is very compact.

Congressional Research Service reports, while public domain documents, are not posted on the web by Congress, nor do they publish a list of current reports. To right this wrong, write your Member of Congress and have them sponsor legislation to get these useful reports out on the web where they belong. It shouldn’t have to be left up to us to detect and post available public domain materials!

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