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The discovery of large gas hydrate accumulations in terrestrial per mafrost regions of the Arctic and beneath the sea along the outer continental margins of the world's oceans has heightened interest in gas hydrates as a possible energy resource. However, significant to potentially insurmountable technical issues must be resolved before gas hydrates can be considered a viable option for affordable supplies of natural gas.
The combined information from Arctic gas hydrate studies shows that, in permafrost regions, gas hydrates may exist at subsurface depths ranging from about 130 to 2000 m. The presence of gas hydrates in offshore continental margins has been inferred mainly from anomalous seismic reflectors, known as bottom-simulating reflectors, that have been mapped at depths below the sea floor ranging from about 100 to 1100 m. Current estimates of the amount of gas in the world's marine and permafrost gas hydrate accumulations are in rough accord at about 20,000 trillion m3.
Disagreements over fundamental issues such as the volume of gas stored within delineated gas hydrate accumulations and the concentration of gas hydrates within hydrate-bearing strata have demonstrated that we know little about gas hydrates. Recently, however, several countries, including Japan, India, and the United States, have launched ambitious national projects to further examine the resource potential of gas hydrates. These projects may help answer key questions dealing with the properties of gas hydrate reservoirs, the design of production systems, and, most important, the costs and economics of gas hydrate production.
Timothy S. Collett is a research geologist in the Geologic Division of the U.S. Geological Survey. He has been project chief of the North Slope of Alaska Gas Hydrate Project since 1985. Before joining the U.S. Geological Survey in 1983, he was an instructor in the Petroleum Engineering Department at the University of Alaska. Collett holds a B.S. degree in geology from Michigan State University, an M.S. degree in geology from the University of Alaska, and a Ph.D. from the Colorado School of Mines.