DOE/NETL Methane Hydrate Projects
Deepwater Methane Hydrate Characterization and Scientific Assessment Last Reviewed December 2017


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.

Potential Impacts
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 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 to research groups participating in core analyses.
  • Initiated interactions with IODP/TAMU regarding the planning of the projects Phase 4 Research Expedition now labeled as IODP Expedition 386.
  • 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 3 gas hydrate research expedition. The expedition is currently planned to begin in January 2020.
  • Completed all logistical, operational permitting, and scientific preparations for the mairne test of the pressure coring expedition and initiated the drilling, logging, and coring expedition at Gulf of Mexico Creen Canyon 955 in May 2017.
  • 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 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 in a land-based trial conducted at the Schlumberger Cameron Test and Training Facility in December 2015.
  • Successfully completed lab/bench testing of the modified version of the PCTB pressure coring system (May 2015).
  • Completed evaluations of potential sites and determination of target areas. Areas include Orca Basin, Perdido area, and Terrebonne and Sigsbee areas (encompassing former JIP 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.
  • Acquired and reviewed seismic and well log data for areas of potential interest for Phase 3 hydrate pressure coring and logging expedition including multiple locations in Walker Ridge, Green Canyon and Alaminos Canyon lease areas.

Current Status (December 2017)
UTA completed an offshore research expedition and marine test (Read More) of the PCTB pressure coring system on May 24, 2017. Subsequently samples and equipment were moved to dockside facilities at Port Fourchon, LA where the team spent an additional 2 weeks doing detailed CT scans of each pressure core and carefully selecting and subsectioning the core. Twenty 1 m core sections, considered to be of the most scientific value, were cut from the ~30 m of pressure core brought ashore and were transferred into long term storage vessels and moved to the UTA core storage and analysis facilities in Austin. In addition, sections not selected for pressurized storage were slowly degassed with characterization of fluids, gas types, and volumes. That depressurized core material, as well as unpressurized core from the expedition, was used in preliminary lithostratigraphic analyses and was then packaged and shipped to UTA. Samples from the expedition will undergo a suite of analyses as the project goes forward with analyses being conducted by UTA and other members of the research team.

UTA has finalized a scientific plan for core distribution and has already initiated movement of core to various research facilities that will participate in core analyses. Distribution of pressurized core will continue over the next several months as appropriate subsamples are cut and prepared for shipment from the UTA core characterization lab using an overland transport mechanism that is still being defined. The research team continues to refine the procedures and processes that will be used in core handling, manipulation, subsampling, and analysis.

In addition to working with the cores recovered as part of the Marine Test, the team (with input from the PCTB Advisory Group) will conduct an evaluation of the performance of the pressure coring system, which experienced difficulties in operations in the Marine Test 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.

In May 2017, the projects complementary Project Proposal to IODP (for the planned large scale hydrate Research Expedition) was approved and placed on the schedule for the Joides Resolution scientific drill ship for early 2020 as IODP Expedition 386. UTA will continue, in the interim, to support and further refine scientific, operational, and logistical planning for that research expedition in conjunction with IODP and the ship operator (Texas A&M university).

The project is currently formally transitioning between project Phase 2 and Phase 3, with Phase 3 activites initiating in mid-January 2018.

Project Start: October 1, 2014
Project End: September 30, 2021

Project Cost Information
Planned Total Funding (through all project phases): $93,978,392
DOE Contribution: $64,372,165
Cost Share Contribution: $29,606,227

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

Additional Information:

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