Researchers make first steps toward researching methane hydrates with $1.7 million grant

Zachary Keener

This story was originally written on March 18, 2014.

Lying hidden under the world’s oceans and permafrost may be the world’s next best bet for a source of natural gas, stowed away in the form of frozen crystal lattices of water and methane called methane hydrates. Researchers at UT are currently examining the resource in an attempt to ultimately figure out how best to extract it.

Methane is a natural gas that is already widely used today but only from sources other than methane hydrates. There is currently not a viable strategy for extracting methane from these methane hydrate reservoirs. Researchers at UT hope to make a first step in changing that.

Hugh Daigle, assistant professor in petroleum and geosystems engineering, and graduate student Michael Nole, along with other collaborators, were given a $1.7 million grant on March 14 from the U.S. Department of Energy to explore where these methane structures originate, how long it takes for them to form and the conditions that will be necessary for large-scale acquisition of the gas.

“We can make some estimates of where the methane is coming from,” Daigle said. “But specifically figuring out what the migration pathways are and what dictates the best reservoirs for these things is still a pretty open question.”

Daigle said the team will be developing a 3-D model, formed using data that has already been acquired by other sources, to represent the Walker Ridge area in the Gulf Coast of Mexico, where methane hydrate deposits lie.

Nole, under the supervision of Daigle, has been developing the 3-D model that will be the focus of the research. He has been working on the model for two months and will eventually utilize more advanced computing resources at UT.

“We will compare the results from the model to data [that has been acquired],” Nole said. “This will allow us to understand the importance of various mechanisms by which we believe methane hydrates are being formed,” Nole said.

They will be looking at two theories to help explain where the methane hydrates come from, termed short and long migration. Ann Cook, assistant professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University, has been a pioneering voice in developing these theories. Cook said she will be creating a separate model to form data that will be added to Nole and Daigle’s 3-D model.

“In long migration, that’s analogous to how normal oil and gas reservoirs are charged,” Cook said. “In short migration, we’re talking about diffusion of methane from a really local source. The gas is made right there. … It moves literally several meters instead of kilometers.”