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Natural Gas Hydrates in Permafrost and Marine Settings: Resources, Properties, and Environmental Issues
Project Number
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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, global climate, 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 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 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.

To serve climate and energy resource goals of the Methane Hydrates R&D program on the US Atlantic margin, the USGS will conduct an evaluation of upper slope, climate-susceptible gas hydrates and collaborate with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and other partners on determining potential sites for a future gas hydrates research drilling program.

In order to develop a better understanding of gas hydrates, the USGS is conducting laboratory research to measure the properties of sediments containing synthetic hydrates using a range of experimental methods. These experiments investigate the interactions among gas hydrate, water, and free- or dissolved-phase gas during hydrate nucleation and dissociation. The experiments also serve to establish geotechnical indices for studying the properties of natural hydrate-bearing sediments retrieved from pressure coring.

The USGS supports cooperative projects between the U.S. and international partners. 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 participating in a scientific leadership capacity during joint field projects.

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 will enhance understanding of the susceptibility of marine gas hydrates and gas hydrates associated with subsea permafrost to warming climate as manifested by 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 role of hydrates in high-latitude climate change. 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. 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 developing new tools and techniques in the laboratory to better understand the hydrate-bearing sediments. USGS and DOE scientists and engineers, along with industry, will work together to gain a better understanding of the nature and distribution of marine gas hydrates in an effort to develop this valuable resource.

Accomplishments (most recent listed first)
  • Completed a research expedition to study seafloor methane seeps along the Atlantic Margin between Baltimore Canyon and Cape Hatteras.
  • Competed the development of a High Pressure Core Analysis Laboratory (HyPrCal) for the storage and analysis of methane hydrate 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).
  • 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 US, Great Britain, and Germany.
  • Two papers describing USGS research on methane dynamics on the US 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 (PCCT) 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

In early November 2017, the USGS received notification that the US Department of Transportation had given official certification to a USGS designed, reusable pressure core transfer chamber. The final certification followed a long process of design reviews and destructive testing. With the certification of these chambers, the US, for the first time, now has the ability to ship pressurized core samples within the US without resorting to extra technologies such as overpacks. Three 1.2 meter pressure core transfer chambers are expected to arrive at Woods Hole in mid-December.

USGS researchers are currently analyzing the NGHP-02 pressure cores, which arrived at Woods Hole on March 31, 2017. The cores will be analyzed in the USGS HyPrCAL using the recently refurbished PCCT’s.

The USGS has been tentatively granted access to two 1.2 meter pressurized cores collected during the May 2017 coring expedition in the GOM. The cores will undergo analysis in the USGS’s new HyPrCal laboratory.

Scientists at Woods Hole have begun planning efforts for a dedicated imaging cruise to map gas hydrates on the upper slope of the US Atlantic Margin. The cruise, which will be conducted in 2018, will map gas hydrate distributions and image natural gas pathways from deeper parts of the basin, filling a gap in modern seismic data between Hudson Canyon and Cape Hatteras.

Project Start
Project End
DOE Contribution

$378,310 for Year 1

$430,517 for Year 2

$401,397 for Year 3

Contact Information

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