Natural gas hydrates: A major resource for natural gas

Article by Dr. Praveen Linga, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, National University of Singapore.



Gas hydrates are ice-like solid crystals formed as a combination of gas and water molecules at low temperature and high pressure. In general, gas hydrates are found in nature, they form in oil and gas flow lines and can also be easily synthesized in the lab. Since natural gas hydrates contain gas and water, upon supply of heat, they can readily dissociate to gas and water and can ignite when contacted with a flame during dissociation. However, it is noted that natural gas hydrates are safe to handle and non-explosive. The major areas of interest on gas hydrates are flow assurance, energy resource and innovative applications and they are presented in Figure 1. Flow assurance to inhibit the formation of hydrates in oil and gas production and transmission equipment remains a major research topic in gas hydrates. Natural gas hydrates are a huge energy resource that is evenly distributed. Recently, several innovative applications have been proposed based on gas hydrates like natural gas storage and transport, carbon capture, desalination, hydrogen storage etc.

The most common form of gas hydrate found in nature is methane hydrate, which are found in permafrost region and continental margins. Methane hydrates in nature was first inferred from Siberian Russia gas field in the late 1960s. Since then, resource estimation studies have revealed that the amount of natural gas in hydrate reservoir is about ~20,000 TCM. It is found that gas hydrates exist in various forms in nature (e.g. sand-dominated sediments, clay-dominated sediments, massive hydrate mounds on seafloor surface), with the sand-dominated hydrate reservoir to be most promising in energy recovery due to its compatibility with the existing oil and gas infrastructure.

It is widely believed that conventional production techniques can be employed for production of methane from these deposits with some specific technical challenges like water and sand management during production that are needed to be addressed. So far, production tests have been carried out in three hydrate reservoirs in Canada (Mallik), Japan (Nankai Trough) and USA (Ignik Sikumi in Alaska). Currently, a major effort to realize natural gas production from hydrate reservoirs is primarily done in Asia in countries like Japan, South Korea, China, India etc. The commercialization of gas hydrate resource will depend on the regulatory framework, knowledge to the resource and their production profiles, cost of production and regional gas price.

Figure 1. Significance of gas hydrate research.

Are gas hydrates a large potential resource? Will gas hydrates play a key role in the future of natural gas? Let us know your views below.

To discuss how international oil and gas companies are working and investing in a portfolio of resources to meet the global growing energy demand, attend Gastech Singapore from 27-30 October 2015.

Stay up to date with the latest from Gastech News. 

  • nilesh choudhary

    “it is noted that natural gas hydrates are safe to handle and non-explosive.”It is well studied claim for storage of hydrogen and other sensitive gases. If we assume certain amount of hydrogen in a container and it exert some pressure on wall. When we provide some opening then spontaneously all gas would release in uncontrolled manner. In-place of normal container, if we provide hydrogen hydrate then we can get output in controlled manner because hydrate will decompose layer by layer. Decomposition rate of hydrate would provide higher residence time for hydrogen in storage utility. However, hydrogen hydrate need help gas like methane and hydrate formation condition

    • Praveen Linga

      Nilesh, good point, yes that is why natural gas (NG) hydrates is the best option to store NG in molecular form. With the increase in natural gas consumption and the eventual shift to natural gas based economies, NG hydrates for storage will be a key technology and enabler for large scale NG storage. Eventually it may be an option for hydrogen storage. There are some challenges for the hydrogen storage to be overcome.