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Natural Gas Hydrates in Permafrost and Marine Settings: Resources, Properties, and Environmental Issues
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The objective of this DOE-USGS Interagency Agreement (IA) is to provide world-class expertise and research in support of the goals of the 2005 Energy Act for National Methane Hydrates R&D, the DOE-led U.S. interagency roadmap for gas hydrates research, and elements of the USGS mission related to energy resources, the environment, and geohazards. This project extends USGS support to the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program previously conducted under DE-AI26-05NT42496 and DE-FE0002911


U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at Woods Hole, MA, Denver, CO, and Menlo Park, CA, Santa Cruz, CA


The USGS IA involves laboratory research and U.S. and international field studies in which DOE/NETL has a significant interest. Geological and geophysical support for these efforts is critical to their success, and the USGS is uniquely qualified to provide this support. This IA is currently divided into six separate tasks.

The primary objective of several tasks is to evaluate the production potential of the known gas hydrate accumulations on the North Slope of Alaska and in the northern Gulf of Mexico (GoM). These tasks are designed as a cooperative research effort among the USGS, DOE, other federal agencies, and various industry representatives. The USGS provides technical and scientific leadership and advice for formulation, planning, and implementation of field-based research projects, laboratory analysis of recovered samples, and support for reservoir modeling.

To serve environmental and energy resource goals of the National Methane Hydrates R&D program on the U.S. Atlantic margin, the USGS has since 2014 conducted numerous cruises to assess the source (microbial vs. thermogenic) of methane seeping from the seafloor, the fate of methane once it enters the water column, and the landward limit of gas hydrate beneath the upper continental slope. In collaboration with DOE and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the USGS has completed major seismic exploration program to refine the distribution of gas hydrate deposits which exist offshore from New Jersey to North Carolina. The Atlantic margin studies conducted by the USGS will eventually inform decisions about potential sites for future gas hydrates research drilling. Determining potential sites for a future gas hydrates research drilling program.

To develop a better understanding of hydrate-bearing sediments, the USGS manages a unique laboratory with tools designed to measure the mechanical, hydraulic, electrical, and thermal properties of pressure core samples recovered from U.S. and international drilling programs. The USGS also conducts benchtop mini-production tests with pressure cores to evaluate the amount of gas that can be extracted from a core using depressurization or thermal stimulation. The USGS routinely measures index and geotechnical properties on conventional core material and conducts experiments on sediments containing synthetic hydrate formed using a range of experimental techniques devised by USGS researchers. The USGS also maintains a scanning eletron microscope with cryogenic capabilities, which supports studies on sediments hosting both natural and synthetic gas hydrates. 

The USGS supports cooperative projects between the U.S. and international partners, including India, Japan, Korea, and other nations. USGS scientists provide a range of capabilities from assessing resource potential to providing scientific and operational advice about the formulation of field programs, as well as leading laboratory programs during and after major field programs.

The USGS is also studying the links between Late Pleistocene to contemporary climate change and the state of the gas hydrate reservoir on global upper continental slopes and Arctic shelves. Research under this objective enhances understanding of the susceptibility of marine gas hydrates and gas hydrates associated with subsea permafrost to warming ocean waters. Key goals are to determine the rate of upper slope gas hydrate degradation, which includes not only studying the contemporary record and modeling the future, but also constraining the timing of onset of methane emissions on upper slopes.


The technical depth of USGS scientists and engineers brings an additional important dimension to the research activities of the DOE Methane Hydrate R&D Program. In the Arctic, the USGS has been involved for decades in geological and geophysical investigations that are helping scientists understand the full extent of the hydrate resource and the interaction of gas hydrates with the environment. USGS research on marine hydrates is making important advances in our understanding of the occurrence and potential hazard of encountering subsurface gas hydrates during drilling in the northern GoM and providing the baseline information needed to support a future shift to research drilling to meet gas hydrates objectives on the U.S. Atlantic margin . This information will provide industry with better tools and data as oil and gas development moves into areas where gas hydrates could present potential hazards. USGS scientists are leaders in developing and applying new laboratory tools and techniques to better understand reservoir properites of hydrate-bearing sediments recovered in conventional and pressure cores. USGS and DOE scientists and engineers, along with industry, will continue to work together to gain a better understanding of the nature and distribution of marine and permafrost-associated gas hydrates in an effort to develop this valuable resource.

Accomplishments (most recent listed first)
  • Completed the Mid-Atlantic Resource Imaging Experiment (MATRIX) seismic experiment, which used up to 4 airguns to acquire more than 2000 km of multichannel seismic data to map the distribution of gas hydrate in marine sedmiments on the U.S. Atlantic margin between New Jersey and North Carolina
  • Completed a collaborative cruise to Dogger Bank in the North Sea to track methane seepage from the seafloor and its fate in the overlying water column
  • Led or co-authored 11 papers on the Indian Ocean NGHP-02 project for the special issue of the Journal of Marine and Petroleum Geology
  • Led special issue of Journal of Geophysical Research (published by the American Geophysical Union) on the physical properties of gas hydrate-bearing sediments
  • Project personnel gave presentations at the 2018 Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on state-of-the-art research related to energy and the environment. Project leadership presented update on environmental research to MHAC during the GRC
  • Built and secured DOT certification for three 1.2 meter pressure-core storage chambers for overland transport of hydrate pressure cores and provided plans and other information to partners seeking to build similar chambers
  • Published two USGS Fact Sheets related to gas hydrates and acknowledging DOE support
  • Completed a research expedition to study seafloor methane seeps along the Atlantic Margin between Baltimore Canyon and Cape Hatteras in 2017 using a remotely operated vehicle. Collected more authigenic carbonates for geochronologic studies
  • Published a major review article on the interaction of climate and gas hydrates in American Geophysical Union’s Reviews of Geophysics
  • Inaugurated the High Pressure Core Analysis Laboratory (HyPrCal) in Woods Hole for the analysis and benchtop production testing of hydrate-bearing pressure cores
  • Five India National Gas Hydrate Program (NGHP)-02 pressure cores were shipped from Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) (Sapporo, Japan) to the USGS (Woods Hole) in early 2017
  • USGS scientists participated in a collaborative international research cruise in the Baltic Sea in October 2016. The purpose of the expedition was to intercalibrate sea-air interface greenhouse gas flux systems from six other laboratories based in the U.S., Great Britain, and Germany
  • Published two lengthy papers on subsea permafrost and gas hydrates on the U.S. Beaufort margin in American Geophysical Union’s journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems in late 2016. Papers were written in collaboration with BOEM personnel in Anchorage, AK
  • Two papers describing USGS research on methane dynamics on the U.S. Atlantic margin were published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters in June 2016 and in American Geophysical Union’s journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems in October 2016
  • The USGS convened a meeting with researchers from AIST, NETL, University of Calgary, Georgia Tech, Colorado School of Mines, and the University of Texas, during the Gordon Research Conference to discuss pressure core measurements and opportunities
  • Presentations on Atlantic margin methane emissions and gas hydrates were given at the University of Tromso and at the British Geological Survey
  • Authigenic carbonate samples collected by the Deep Submergence Vehicle (DSV) Alvin were shipped from the USGS to the British Geological Survey for Uranium/Thorium high resolution dating
  • USGS scientists participated in an international expedition designed to quantify the net flux of the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide from a shallow water gas seep offshore of western Svalbard
  • Following completion of agreements among DOE, Georgia Tech, and the USGS in summer 2015, pressure core characterization tools (PCCTs) were transferred to the USGS at Woods Hole. The USGS formed an advisory committee for the PCCTs in summer 2015, consisting of academic and government researchers to determine the required revisions to the PCCTs capabilities for future programs
Current Status

Researchers are currently analyzing seismic data obtained during the MATRIX and will present an updated map of bottom simulating reflectors at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) during the week of December 10, 2018. Scientists in Woods Hole will work with seismic processors in Denver to analyze the sonobuoy data collected during MATRIX. The USGS plans to host a meeting about the MATRIX dataset with BOEM and DOE in Woods Hole in the first part of 2019.

Researchers have contributed data about new gas plume locations to another federal agency and are coauthors on an AGU presentation (Fall Meeting) that updates the catalog of seep locations on the U.S. Atlantic margin.

USGS researchers are finalizing the analysis of the remaining material from the NGHP-02 pressure cores, which arrived at Woods Hole on March 31, 2017. USGS researchers continue to be involved in the reservoir modeling efforts for the Indian Ocean.   
The Pressure Core Characterization Tools have been updated with more automation, load frames, an improved saw, and other devices in preparation for the arrival of the Gulf of Mexico pressure cores.

The USGS has been granted access to two 1.2 m pressurized cores collected during the May 2017 coring expedition in the GoM. USGS personnel will travel to the University of Texas at Austin (UTA) to transport the cores back to Wood Hole via a rented refrigerated truck in December 2018. Collaborative research plans have been developed with Prof. Sheng Dai at Georgia Tech and Dr. Joel Johnson of the University of New Hampshire (UNH). The scientific work on the cores is intended to assess mechanical, transport, and index property differences between the two primary facies identified by UTA (gas hydrate rich, presumably coarser-grain sediment, and lower gas hydrate content, presumably higher clay-content sediment). The cores will undergo initial analysis in the USGS’s HyPrCal laboratory. Follow-up tests will be conducted on subsections of the cores at Georgia Tech and UNH.

USGS researchers are continuing analyses to support the collaboration on the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (KIGAM) samples from the Ulleung Basin.

USGS personnel are preparing to conduct gas analyses from Hydrate 01 well that will spud on the Alaskan North Slope in December 2018. USGS personnel will also analyze gases from the nearby National Petroleum Research Area (NPRA) as part of this study.

Project Start
Project End
DOE Contribution

$378,310 for Year 1

$430,517 for Year 2

$401,397 for Year 3

$412,298 for Year 4

Contact Information

NETL – Skip Pratt ( or 304-285-4396)
USGS – Carolyn Ruppel ( or 617-806-6768)