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Natural Gas Bonanza from Hydrates

June 1, 2013

The article, Do We Have Enough Natural Gas?, established that the United States has technically recoverable reserves that will last for decades, even with increased usage for coal to gas switching and some LNG exports.

The question remains whether LNG exports should proceed in earnest.

Perhaps the answer to that question resides on the sea floor … as methane hydrates.

Methane molecule trapped in cage.

Methane molecule trapped in water molecule cage.


The future of methane hydrates is speculative, though there may be sufficient information to indicate that natural gas can be produced from this resource.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)1 has recently completed an estimate of recoverable natural gas from methane hydrates on the Outer Continental Shelves (OCS) of the lower 48 states of the United States.

These estimates are without regard to technical recoverability.


Table 1


In-place Gas Hydrate Resources

Atlantic OCS 21,702 Tcf
Gulf of Mexico OCS 21,444 Tcf
West Coast OCS   8,192 Tcf


51,338 Tcf
Tcf = trillion cubic feet


These compare with the Potential Gas Committee’s (PGC) estimate of 2,384 Tcf of technically recoverable reserves of natural gas in the United States.

Clearly, methane hydrates hold out the promise of natural gas supplies far greater than currently forecast by the PGC.

For example, merely developing 10% of the methane hydrates found in the Gulf of Mexico would be equivalent to the PGCs estimate of total reserves in the United States.

It’s interesting to see how those who are against developing energy resources try to discourage their development.

In this instance, How Stuff Works2, sees the risk, but not the opportunity in developing methane hydrates. It cites possible underwater landslides and global warming as risks. It refers to tsunamis from landslides and catastrophic releases of methane to the atmosphere.

The Sierra Club has embarked on a war against natural gas.

Aside from unreasonable fears, the real issue is whether natural gas can be recovered from methane hydrates at a competitive cost.

Japan3 has a program for producing natural gas from methane hydrates located near its coast, and predicts it will be successful by 2019.

The cost target of $15 per million BTUs, the cost of importing LNG into Japan, is easier to meet than the $5 per million BTU target to compete with natural gas produced in the United States.

Most people believe that Japan’s objective is highly optimistic, but it does shed light on the efforts currently underway to develop the technology for extracting natural gas from methane hydrates.

When one considers the advances that have been made in developing sea floor, i.e., subsea, equipment used for producing oil at over 6,000 feet below the surface, it seems reasonable to conclude that these advances will continue and will be applicable to the extraction of natural gas from methane hydrates4.

It was only 35 years ago that we became aware that methane hydrates were widely abundant in nature. Before that, they were a laboratory phenomenon or a nuisance that blocked underwater pipes.

It’s inconceivable that the needed subsea equipment won’t be developed over the next forty years to produce natural gas from methane hydrates.

It’s also to America’s advantage to be a leader in this development.

With the potential supply of natural gas from methane hydrates looming on the horizon, it would seem logical to permit the export of LNG under free market conditions.




  1. BOEM assessment of methane hydrates.
  2. The Risky Business of Mining Methane Hydrate
  3. Acceding to the May 23rd Oil & Gas Journal, “Baker Hughes Inc. designed the completion system under contract to Japan Drilling Co. Ltd., … where a specially designed electric submersible pump system was able to separate methane from water and move them to the drillship through separate production strings.”
  4. Subsea equipment companies include Baker Hughes, FMC Technologies, Cameron International, GE, One Subsea, Schlumberger and Aker.


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