DNR Approves Methane Hydrate Drilling
Scanning electron microscope image of gas hydrate crystals in sediment. The picture shows a sample approximately 1/100 of an inch wide.
Alaska may be sitting on a motherlode of an alternative form of fossil fuel, depending on the outcome of an international intergovernmental research effort.
The consortium now has approval from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas to drill test wells on the North Slope to confirm the long-term production prospects of methane hydrate. The consortium includes the Japan Oil, Gas, and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), the US Department of Energy, the US Geological Survey, and the US National Energy Technology Laboratory.
Methane hydrates, also known as methane clathrates, are natural gas molecules trapped in ice lattices that form under a specific set of temperature and pressure conditions. They occur both in deep soil and on the ocean floor.
Alaska is one of the only areas with well-characterized and abundant onshore subsurface hydrate deposits close to existing oil and gas infrastructure. In 2018, the US Geological Survey assessed the undiscovered conventional resource potential of methane hydrates on the North Slope to be almost 54 trillion cubic feet of gas. The consortium aims to demonstrate that methane can be consistently produced from a subsurface hydrate formation.
“This is a major milestone to continue exploring what could be a significant resource and energy source in the future,” says Governor Mike Dunleavy. “I am proud that Alaska is so well positioned to host this research and optimistic that we will be one of the premier places in the world for potential production if the test is successful.”
JOGMEC previously demonstrated nearly six days of continuous production from permafrost in Canada in 2008 using a depressurization method. The state-run energy company was also the first to extract methane hydrate offshore in 2013 using a deep-sea drilling vessel in Japanese waters. At the time, the company hoped to achieve commercial-scale production by 2019, but the technology is still in development.
Japan is the world’s top importer of liquified natural gas, with no fossil fuel reserves on its volcanic islands. However, offshore methane hydrate reserves are estimated to contain enough natural gas to supply the entire country’s consumption for more than a decade.
The red outline shows areas where subsurface temperature and pressure conditions are conducive to forming gas hydrates.
Dunleavy says he is encouraged to be cooperating with the government of Japan in such a significant way. “This is yet another area of strategic cooperation and energy partnership between Alaska and Japan,” the governor says.
The test is currently slated to continue through 2024, and the US Geological Survey and US Department of Energy may release reports, studies, or data about the test based on its results going forward.