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Deepwater Methane Hydrate Characterization and Scientific Assessment
Project Number
Last Reviewed Dated

The primary project goal is to gain insight into the nature, formation, occurrence, and physical properties of methane hydrate-bearing sediments for methane hydrate resource appraisal through the planning and execution of drilling, coring, logging, testing, and analytical activities to assess the geologic occurrence, regional context, and characteristics of marine methane hydrate deposits in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and/or other areas of the United States Outer Continental Shelf.


University of Texas at Austin (UTA), Austin, TX 
Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 
Columbia University, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY 
Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH
University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Tufts University,Somerville, MA
United States Geological Survey (USGS), Denver, CO


Methane hydrates within sand‐rich marine reservoirs represent a vast reservoir of methane. Previous drilling in the GOM has verified the presence of hydrate-filled sand reservoirs and shown that such reservoirs can be identified by seismic analysis. However, conventional and pressurized cores of these reservoirs have not been collected, a number critical in situ measurements are lacking, and pressure perturbation experiments have not been performed.
The project team will attempt to address these issues by planning and executing a state-of-the-art deepwater, methane hydrate drilling program targeting methane hydrate reservoirs on the U.S. continental margin.
In Phase 1, potential research expedition sites will be identified, appraised using available geophysical and geologic data, and ranked using criteria developed in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Following site selection, pre-expedition drilling, coring, logging, and a sampling operational plan will be developed, as well as efforts undertaken to access a suitable drill ship/science vessel. A Complementary Project Proposal (CPP), based on the Operational Plan, will be submitted to the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) as a primary method of accessing a suitable drill ship/science vessel. Lab testing, modification, and planning for a land-based field test of the pressure coring tool with ball valve (PCTB) will be conducted concurrently.
During Phase 2, a land-based field test of the PCTB will be conducted followed by a Marine Field Test (UT-GOM2-1) in a deep‐water environment. UTA will develop the capability to transport, store, and manipulate pressure cores, acquired during the UT-GOM2-1, and will transport the cores to land-based facilities to be stored, subsampled, and characterized. The Operational Plan for the UT-GOM2-2 Scientific Drilling Program will be refined. UTA will provide notification of CPP outcome and, if necessary, evaluate alternate means of gaining access to a vessel for the UT-GOM2-2 Scientific Drilling Program.
During Phase 3, UTA will continue support of the CPP and will maintain and further develop the capability to transport, store, and manipulate pressure cores. Pressure cores acquired during UT-GOM2-1 will be further characterized and pressure core analytical capabilities will be strengthened. The Operational Plan for the UT-GOM2-2 Scientific Drilling Program will be refined, and UTA will continue to pursue access to a vessel for the UT-GOM2-2 Scientific Drilling Program. A post UT-GOM2-1 performance evaluation of the PCTB will take place concurrently, a second PCTB lab test will be performed, and modifications will be made as needed. Additionally, UT-GOM2-2 Scientific Drilling Program preparations will be initiated. 
In Phase 4, pressure cores acquired during UT-GOM2-1 will be further characterized and pressure core analytical capabilities will be strengthened. The Operational Plan for UT-GOM2-2 will be refined and UTA pursuit of access to a vessel for UT-GOM2-2 will be continued. Engineering modifications to the PCTB will continue to be made as needed, and a Land Test of the PCTB will be conducted prior to planned deployment during the UT-GOM2-2 (Phase 5). UT-GOM2-2 preparations will continue, including planning and initiation of permitting.
During Phase 5, pressure cores acquired from the UT-GOM2-1 will complete characterization. The Operational Plan for UT-GOM2-2 will be finalized and UTA will complete contracting for a suitable vessel, as well as preparations and permitting for the expedition. UT-GOM2-2 Program will be executed and will involve drilling, logging, and collecting core samples in marine gas hydrate bearing sediments in the GOM. Planned data and sample acquisition includes, but is not limited to: pressure cores, conventional wireline cores, and probe penetrometer measurements to determine the in situ thermodynamic conditions. Following shipboard operations, UTA transports the cores to land-based facilities to be stored, subsampled, and initiate characterization.
In Phase 6, pressure cores acquired from UT-GOM2-2 will continue to be characterized and UTA will distribute hydrate cores to other research facilities. Scientific analysis of methane hydrate reservoirs will continue through sample and data distribution, collaborative analysis of geologic data, archiving, or the scientific results volume, and technical presentations. A summary of the onboard drilling and sample procurement procedures, as well as scientific results, will be archived and made publicly available.


Successful acquisition of project data will strengthen our understanding of methane hydrate morphology, saturation, physical properties, geochemistry, and geological characteristics. This data will provide the foundation to model and ultimately predict the behavior of these reservoirs during perturbations caused by production. More broadly, the field data will strengthen our ability to reliably predict concentrations of methane hydrate and formation stability in sand‐dominated reservoir settings, as well as better understand the contribution of marine methane hydrates to the carbon cycle.
Methane hydrates may ultimately contribute to the long‐term energy security of the U.S. and world. Characterization of methane hydrates in marine sands is the first step toward demonstrating the feasibility of production from this type of hydrate occurrence.

Accomplishments (most recent listed first)

Budget Period (BP) 5 - To date

  • Published UT-GOM2-2 Expedition Prospectus (scientific plan for the acquisition, storage, analysis, and distribution of core and other collected samples for the expedition).
  • Finalized UT-GOM2-2 Operations Plan.
  • Successfully conducted full scale land test of the PCTB at the Catoosa Test Facility confirming efficacy of the system to effectively and consistently achieve pressure sealing.
  • Completed and submitted BOEM 0137 (OCS Plan Info) and BOEM Exploration Plan & RUE Request necessary to initiate GOM2-2 expedition permitting process.

BP 4

  • Published dedicated American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin volume (1 of multi-volume) with results from the UT-GOM2-1 expedition.
  • Continued GOM2-1 core analysis confirming gas in hydrate at GC-955 was formed by primary microbial processes, determined in-situ effective permeability of hydrate-bearing sandy silts from 0.1 to 2.4 md in cores with 83% to 93% hydrate saturation. 
  • Interpreted that core degradation found in pressure cores is due to dissociation of the hydrate in the outer circumference of the core and dissolution of that methane into the fresh pore water that the core is stored with. 
  • Established root cause, implemented engineering fixes, and confirmed efficacy (through bench testing) of upgrades to address pressure sealing consistency in the PCTB pressure coring system. 
  • Completed a land test of the PCTB at the Schlumberger Cameron Test and Training Facility (CTTF). The tool did not seal in six out of seven tests, thus leading to upgrades defined in the accomplishment above. 
  • Continued preparations for Phase 5 GOM2-2 expedition:
    • Completed shallow hazard assessment reports for each drilling location (completes geological and geophysical analysis for permitting efforts).
    • Updated the UT-GOM2-2 Operations Plan and completed the UT-GOM2-2 Science and Sample Distribution Plan.
    • Developed drilling schedule, mud volume, resource estimates, vessel specification, and well plan, then provided to potential drilling vessel contractors.

 BP 3

  • Completed update and revision of the Operational Plan for the Phase 5 Research Expedition (UT-GOM2-2).
  • Arrived at a final approach to access a suitable research vessel for conducting operations under UT-GOM2-2, including evaluation of collaboration with both U.S. and European arms of IODP, settling on an approach which will use a commercial drilling vessel directly contracted by UTA.
  • Conducted pressure core subsampling/analysis operations in the UTA pressure core characterization lab and developed detailed procedures for handling, subsampling, and conducting analysis on cores. Analyses to date include: quantitative degassing and gas/fluid analysis, hydrate saturation calculations, and steady-state permeability tests on pressure cores from UT-GOM2-1. 
  • Completed transfer of pressure core from UT-GOM2-1 to outside groups (NETL, USGS, and AIST (Japan)).
  • Completed lab testing of PCTB pressure coring system to evaluate necessary modifications to overcome performance issues experienced in UT-GOM2-1.

BP 2

  • Conducted detailed dockside computed tomography (CT) scanning of pressure core collected during UT GOM2-1. Twenty of the most scientifically valuable 1 meter (m) core sections were subsectioned and placed into smaller pressure storage vessels and shipped to UTA for future analyses by UTA, the project team, and other outside groups. 
  • Conducted assessment of gas and fluid from degassing of the remaining sections of UT-GOM2-1 pressure cores. Depressurized core materials were transferred to UTA and will be allocated among the full science team for various analyses.
  • Safely and effectively completed a research expedition to the GOM Lease Block Green Canyon 955 which focused on testing the project’s gas hydrate pressure coring system. The expedition resulted in the collection of ~28 m of pressurized core and an additional 11 m of non-pressurized core. This was the first ever collection of hydrate pressure core from the GOM.
  • Successfully completed the IODP Complementary Project Proposal (CPP) process resulting in acceptance and scheduling of the projects planned large-scale UT-GOM2-2 research expedition. Note: This expedition was subsequently withdrawn from the IODP schedule for the Joides Resolution due to compliance issues with meeting U.S. Coast Guard mobile drilling unit standards required for the planned activities.
  • Completed modifications to the PCTB pressure coring system and performed bench, component fit, pressure function tests.
  • Successfully tested and reported on operation and performance of the project’s pressure coring system through lab/bench scale testing (May 2015) and through a land-based trial conducted at the Schlumberger Cameron Test and Training Facility.

BP 1

  • Completed full evaluations of potential field sites and determination of target areas. Areas include the Orca Basin, Perdido area, and Terrebonne and Sigsbee areas (encompassing former joint industry partnership sites at WR313 and GC955). Eleven specific sites were identified within these areas.
  • Conducted a scientific workshop focused on the equipment and science associated with the analysis of hydrate pressure cores (Austin, TX, March 2015) resulting in initial development of a pressure core science plan for shipboard science/sampling as well as potential shore-based analyses.
Current Status

The project remains in Phase 520. Activities in this Phase continue to focus on the completion of preparations for UT-GOM2-2, which includes finalization of contracting, permitting scientific, operational, and logistical plans, followed by the execution of the large-scale GOM2-2 drilling, logging, and coring expedition at sites in WR313. Timing of the expedition will be dependent on the availability of DOE funds to support the effort.Concurrently during Phase 5, project researchers continue analyzing cores collected during UT-GOM2-1, and will be preparing for core storage and analysis for cores taken during GOM2-2. 

Project Start
Project End
DOE Contribution


Contact Information

NETL Project Manager – Richard Baker ( ) 
UTA Principal Investigator – Peter Flemings (