Commercialization of methane recovery from coastal deposits of methane hydrates could head off an impending gas shortage.
Henry R. Linden is Max McGraw Professor of Energy & Power Engineering & Management , and director, Energy & Power Center, Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois.
Looking superficially at today's gas market data, one might conclude that all is well with the gas industry. For example, working gas storage at the beginning of the current winter withdrawal season-projected to reach well above the normal level of 3.2 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) -actually reached more than 3.3 Tcf at the beginning of November. Furthermore, average active rig count drilling for natural gas was projected to reach a record high of about 1,025 in 2004.
However, growing numbers of energy experts-increasingly alarmed at the ever-increasing price level of natural gas-predict a natural-gas supply crisis for the United States in the coming years.
Strikingly, these forecasters, who projected that pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals would arrive too late to prevent a natural-gas disaster, also had projected spot prices years into the future that were reached in the last few months. For instance, projected mid-winter Henry Hub spot prices of about $6.60 to $7.70/MMBtu for 2004/2005 and $7.50 to $8.50/MMBtu for 2005/2006  were reached during the October 2004 cold spell.
This article investigates the potential of U.S. methane hydrates to avert an impending shortage of natural gas from domestic sources, supplemented by pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports at competitive costs.