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Deepwater Methane Hydrate Characterization and Scientific Assessment
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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 U.S. 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, Corvalis, OR
University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH
University of Washington, Seattle, WA
United States Geological Survey, Denver, CO


Methane hydrates within sand‐rich marine reservoirs represent a potentially vast reservoir of methane. Previous drilling in the GOM has verified the presence of methane hydrate filled sand reservoirs and shown that sand 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 have not been recorded, 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 operational plans will be developed and efforts undertaken to access a suitable drill ship/science vessel.

During Phase 2, the project team will refine operational plans for a large-scale Phase 4 research expedition; undertake the development of pressure core transport, storage, handling and analysis capabilities; conduct a land-based field test of the project’s existing DOE pressure coring system; and ultimately plan and carry out a Marine Field Test of the pressure coring system in a deep-water environment. The expectation is to collect pressure core from an area of known high-saturation hydrate occurrence. Pressure cores acquired during the marine field test will be transported to land-based facilities, stored, subsampled, and analysis/characterization will be initiated.

During Phase 3, pressure cores acquired during the Marine Field Test will be further characterized and pressure core analytical capabilities will be strengthened. Concurrently during Phase 3, a post-Marine Field Test performance evaluation of the DOE pressure coring system will take place accompanied by laboratory-based testing, and a land-based field test. Engineering modifications will be made to the pressure coring system as required, based on the outcome of the laboratory based testing. Additionally, Research Expedition preparations and finalization of the Operational Plan will be completed. Preparations will also be made for transportation and storage of pressure cores to be acquired in Phase 4.

The project’s final phase (Phase 4) will focus around the execution of a multi-month offshore Research Expedition Field Program, which will involve drilling, logging, and collecting core samples in marine gas hydrate bearing sediments in the Gulf of Mexico. Planned data and sample acquisition includes but is not limited to: (1) pressure cores, (2) conventional wireline cores, (3) downhole logging data, including highly technical tools such as nuclear magnetic resonance, and quadrupole acoustic logging, (4) wireline formation testing to obtain real time pressure and permeability measurements, and (5) probe penetrometer measurements to determine the in situ thermodynamic conditions. 

Initial scientific analysis of methane hydrate reservoirs will begin onboard the drillship. Following the Research Expedition field program, scientific analysis of methane hydrate reservoirs will continue. A summary of the onboard drilling and sample procurement procedures, as well as initial 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. These 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 United States 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)
  • Initiated quantitative degassing and gas/fluid analysis on uncompromised pressure cores from the project’s 2017 Marine Test (Expedition 1).
  • Conducted a two-day technical workshop for the project. This workshop focused on Expedition 1 core analysis results, ongoing work, and planning and prioritization efforts for the future Phase 4 long-term research expedition (Expedition 2) effort.
  • Completed the first transfer of pressure core from the project’s Expedition 1 to an outside group. Four 30 cm pressure core segments were subsectioned, moved to transport pressure vessels, and transferred to NETL.
  • Provided information to the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD) to support their consideration of participation and funding support for the Phase 4 Expedition 2. Note that although recommended for support by the ECORD facilities board, the ECORD council declined to participate in the expedition.
  • Completed update and potential revision of the Operational Plan for the Phase 4 Research Expedition assuming the use of a commercial drilling vessel.
  • Conducted gas sampling, hydrate saturation calculations, and steady- state permeability tests on one Marine Test pressure core.
  • Initiated pressure core subsampling/analysis operations in the UTA pressure core characterization lab and developed detailed procedures for handling, subsampling and conducting analysis on cores.
  • Completed a scientific distribution plan for core (pressurized and unpressurized) from the 2017 Marine Test and initiated distribution of core (non-pressure core) to research groups participating in core analyses.
  • Conducted detailed dockside CT scanning of pressure core collected during Marine Test of the pressure coring system. Twenty of the most scientifically valuable 1 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 Marine Test 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 Gulf of Mexico Lease Block Green Canyon 955 which focused on testing the project’s gas hydrtate 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 Gulf of Mexico.
  • Successfully completed the International Ocean Discovery Program Complementary Project Proposal (CPP) process resulting in acceptance and scheduling of the projects planned large-scale Phase 4 gas hydrate research expedition. Note: This expedition was subsequently withdrawn from the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (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 establishment of pressure core storage, manipulation and testing capabilities at UTA.
  • Completed efforts to establish pressure core storage, manipulation and testing capabilities at UTA.
  • Completed detailed drilling, logging, coring, sampling, operational, and core analysis plans for the 2017 marine test of the pressure coring system.
  • Completed modifications to the Pressure Core Tool with Ball (PCTB) Pressure coring system and successfully performed pre-sea trial bench, component fit, and vertical full 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 in a land-based trial conducted at the Schlumberger Cameron Test and Training Facility in December 2015.
  • Completed full evaluations of potential field sites and determination of target areas. Areas include Orca Basin, Perdido area, and Terrebonne and Sigsbee areas (encompassing former joint industry partnership (JIP) sites at WR313 and GC955). 11 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 formally transitioned into Phase 3 in early 2018. UTA has initiated in-house analysis activities for the pressure core collected during the 2017 offshore research expedition and marine test (Read More). Following the refinement of quantitative degassing processes using compromised cores (cores where pressure exited the hydrate stability range), researchers have now initiated degassing and gas/fluid analysis using uncompromised cores from the 2017 Expedition 1. The team has also started the external transfer of intact pressure cores, with the first being sent to NETL in September 2018. Other transfers are planned to go to United States Geological Survey (USGS) Woods Hole, MA, and to The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology AIST, Japan, over the next year. The UTA team is preparing to upgrade their pressure core handling and subsampling system through the addition of CT scan capability to allow more precise positioning of samples and more accurate subsampling. The CT scanner is in-house and will be undergoing installation and shakedown over the next month or two. 

In addition to working with the cores recovered as part of the Marine Test/Expedition 1, the team (with input from the PCTB Advisory Group) continues to conduct an evaluation of the performance of the pressure coring system and develop an approach to find the root cause of issues, to make changes to the system as needed, and to conduct detailed lab- and land-based testing of the revised tool to maximize the chances for effective performance during the planned large-scale Research Expedition in Phase 4 of the project. The system testing/root cause evaluation phase is expected to start in early January 2019 at GeoTek facilities in Salt Lake City, UT.

The project recently experienced a setback in their attempt to establish new external participation in planned Phase 4 Expedition 2. Following the withdrawl of the U.S. International Ocean Discovery Program (upon finding that their research vessel the Joides Resolution had compliance issues with established standards for operation of mobile drilling units in the Gulf of Mexico), the project had approached ECORD about participating and providing financial support to help offset the expected increase in costs with the shift to the use of a commercial drilling vessel. In September 2018, the ECORD facilities board provided a recommendation to participate in the proposed project and it was then forwarded to the ECORD council who makes final funding decisions. The ECORD council, at a November 2018, voted to decline participation. The project team is now reevaluating the proposed elements of Expedition 2 and undertaking a costing and technical prioritization to enable an assessment of the project path forward with regards to Expedition 2. It is anticipated that this review process will take several months to complete. In the interim, the project team will focus on core analysis efforts and the evaluation and upgrade of the DOE pressure coring system.

Project Start
Project End
DOE Contribution


Performer Contribution


Planned Total Funding (through all project phases): $93,978,392

Contact Information

NETL Project Manager – Richard Baker ( or 304-285-4714) 
UTA Principal Investigator – Peter Flemings (

Additional Information

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF] April - June, 2019

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF] January - March, 2019

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF] October - December, 2018

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF] July - September, 2018

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF] April - June, 2018

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF] January - March, 2018

Phase 2 Report [PDF] January, 2018

Marine Test Expedition Report – Expedition Summary [PDF] February, 2018

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF] October - December, 2017

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-329KB] July - September, 2017

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-7.5MB] April - June, 2017

ICGH 2017 Paper on Marine Test Drilling, Logging and Coring Expedition [PDF-1MB] May 2017

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-334KB] January - March, 2017

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-242KB] October - December, 2016

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-2.42MB] July - September, 2016

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-692KB] April - June, 2016

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-16.1MB] January - March, 2016

Phase 1 Report [PDF-7.94MB] September, 2015

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-1.92MB] October - December, 2015

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-206KB] April - June, 2015

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-290KB] January - March, 2015

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-240KB] October - December, 2014