New federal methane hydrate research funds
A package of funding measures passed by Congress and heading to President Trump for his signature includes $20 million for further research into the production of natural gas from methane hydrates, according to a Sept. 13 news release from Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski has also included wording in the appropriation bill, encouraging the Secretary of Energy to perform a test in the Arctic for long-term methane hydrate production. Arctic Alaska is thought to hold some 32,600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas locked in hydrates, the statement says.
The package also includes funding for other Arctic energy initiatives, including the research, development and deployment of electric power technologies for remote rural communities, and $15 million for Denali Commission funding for rural infrastructure.
Methane hydrate is a solid material consisting of natural gas trapped in an ice-like lattice of water molecules. The material, stable within a certain range of relatively low temperatures and somewhat high pressures, can concentrate huge quantities of gas. And, with the possibility of producing gas from the hydrates by elevating the temperature or reducing the pressure, the hydrates could provide a major source of gas for fuel. But the sustained and economic production of gas from hydrates has yet to be demonstrated.
Test wells have been drilled into methane hydrates, including two wells into deposits that exist around the base of the permafrost on the central North Slope. Although the short-term production of gas from the hydrates has been demonstrated, the technical and economic viability of continuous, long-term production has yet to be demonstrated.
The state of Alaska and the U.S. Department of Energy have in the past planned a long-term test of methane hydrate production on the Slope, but such a test has yet to materialize.
- ALAN BAILEY