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Reversing the Gas Crisis: The Methane Hydrate Solution


Commercialization of methane recovery from coastal deposits of methane hydrates could head off an impending gas shortage.

Fortnightly Magazine - January 2005

true of large, untapped resources of the other types of unconventional natural gas-especially tight sands and gas shales, which by 2025 are projected to supply over 7 Tcf of U.S. production [12]. But, while substantial, these supplemental sources of supply are insignificant when compared to the promise of methane hydrates.

For LNG imports, the United States now has only four operating receiving terminals and new technology is needed to reduce public opposition to the construction of new terminals in most U.S. coastal areas except, perhaps, the Gulf Coast in order to raise LNG imports to projected levels of 2.2 Tcf in 2010 and 4.8 Tcf in 2025 ().

Regarding conventional natural gas supply, the number of gas well completions has increased to a rate of about 24,000 a year [13]. The active natural gas rig count rose to an extraordinarily high level of 1,082 during the week ended Sept. 3, 2004 [15] and is likely to set a record high of at least 1,025 in 2004 based on the author's estimate from Baker Hughes Rig count data.

This increase followed large wellhead gas price increases after the California energy crisis in 2001/2002, and the excessive depletion of underground storage reservoirs during the winter of 2002/2003. But the increases can be attributed mostly to development drilling in known formations, while gas production has remained flat, or even declined [13].

The gas industry, gas consumers, and DOE need to assess the significance of the decline in the EIA's projections of gas supply from 2003 to 2004. The , forecasts 23.17 Tcf of U.S. natural gas supply (including 3.65 Tcf of net imports) in 2001, increasing to 34.60 Tcf (including 7.76 Tcf of net imports) in 2025 [16], whereas the reduces the forecast for 2025 to 31.33 Tcf (including 7.24 Tcf of net natural gas imports) [12]. This one-year decline in projections shown in Table 2 is a major cause for concern. Attention to the supply problem is especially needed since U.S. dry natural gas production had declined, from 21.7 Tcf in 1973 to 16.1 Tcf in 1986 before recovering steadily to 19.7 Tcf in 2001 [13]. Improvements in exploration and production technologies to minimize their environmental impact would greatly increase the probability that large, existing lower-48 reserves (such as the six basins straddling the Rocky Mountains region) would become accessible to exploitation. R,D&D in all critical areas of high-pressure, large-diameter pipeline transmission technology also would facilitate the construction of a pipeline to transport the large Alaskan and Mackenzie River Delta reserves to the lower-48 states.

As noted before, the Potential Gas Committee estimate of remaining technically recoverable U.S. gas resources as of Dec. 31, 2002, is 1,314 Tcf (including proved reserves of 186.946 Tcf-) after subtracting the estimated cumulative production of 989 Tcf from the initial ultimate resource base of 2,303 Tcf [17]. Based on the well-known but controversial peak crude oil production projections of M. King Hubbert that were reasonably close for the lower-48 states [18], a simplistic approach to projecting the level and time of peak U.S. natural gas production would be