News Release

Release Date: December 04, 2017

Recovery of Pressurized Cores Key to Natural Gas Hydrate Research




An NETL-sponsored team led by the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) has recovered the first pressurized cores from a gas hydrate reservoir in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico—a key step in opening the door to a vast untouched natural gas resource.

Gas hydrates are crystal structures that form under specific conditions of low temperature and high pressure, in which frozen water creates a cage that traps methane molecules. Because methane is a clean burning energy source, understanding the potential of this resource is an important goal for NETL—the only national laboratory devoted to fossil energy research

Retrieving the samples while keeping them pressurized will allow researchers at NETL, UT-Austin, and many other laboratories across the country to make breakthroughs in understanding the nature, occurrence and physio-chemical behavior of gas hydrate systems as well as the Gulf of Mexico hydrate potential.

Once thought to be rare in nature, gas hydrates are now known to occur in great abundance in association with arctic permafrost and in the shallow sediments of the deep-water continental shelves—like those in the Gulf of Mexico; however, many scientific uncertainties and technical challenges must still be overcome before hydrates can be produced commercially in an environmentally benign manner.

“Much of what still needs to be understood about hydrate system occurrence and behavior is best learned through the study of samples that are as close to natural conditions as possible,” said Rick Baker, NETL project manager. “But, capturing and recovering such samples to the surface under those conditions can only be achieved using specialized equipment and techniques.”

To solve this challenge, the research team used a revolutionary new coring tool to secure more than 30 meters of pressure core, ultimately resulting in the preservation of 21 one-meter samples of some of the highest quality gas hydrate cores ever collected. Those samples will be further sub-sectioned and analyzed by the research team. The samples will also be distributed to a variety of laboratories, including NETL, USGS, and others for further study. This coordinated program of collaborative science will help advance the study of gas hydrate science and will disseminate critical research results through peer reviewed publications that will enrich the research community and open a potential avenue to a new clean-burning energy resource.