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Workshop on Integrating Modeling and USGS Laboratory Studies of Gas Hydrates

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Fred Wright presents his ideas at the workshop.
Above: Fred Wright (Geological Survey of Canada) presents his thought-provoking ideas summarizing the issues and linkages between gas-hydrate modeling and laboratory research. The workshop took place at the USGS Energy Resources Team Conference Room at the Federal Center in Lakewood, CO. Photograph by Bill Winters. [larger version]

On August 2-3, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) hosted a workshop in Denver, CO, to determine how its gas-hydrate laboratory studies could be more closely aligned with a growing number of modeling studies that simulate gas hydrates within geologic and petroleum systems. This strategic focus on specific models is a response to several gas-hydrate-related computer-modeling codes currently being used in the hydrate community (for example, TOUGH-Fx/hydrate from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; CGM STARS from commercial hydrocarbon exploration; MH21 from the University of Tokyo, Japan; and STOMP-HYD from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory). The workshop was intended not to suggest that laboratory results are relevant only to constraining or validating these types of models, but rather to identify those key parameters that USGS laboratory experiments could provide to help further our understanding of gas hydrates in the natural environment.

The workshop was convened by USGS scientists Debbie Hutchinson (Coastal and Marine Geology, Woods Hole, MA) and Tim Collett (Energy Resources, Denver). Twenty-nine scientists representing the USGS, the Geological Survey of Canada, the U.S. National Laboratories, industry, academia, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the Minerals Management Service (MMS) participated in the meeting. Covering a broad range of expertise, they included laboratory experimentalists, numerical modelers, field scientists, and Federal research managers.

The day-and-a-half meeting began with a day of presentations and discussions about modeling approaches, laboratory knowledge, and how laboratory and modeling studies are linked. Here is a sampling of some of the key themes that emerged from these indepth discussions:

  • Confidence in current modeling results is constrained by an incomplete understanding of some key processes and uncertainties regarding appropriate values for model inputs.
  • Heterogeneity is rarely adequately modeled (at micro-to-macro spatial scales and short-to-long temporal scales).
  • Understanding transport properties is a critical need (especially fluid-flow characteristics, the role of fractures, changing permeability, and so on).
  • Despite years of study, the research community still cannot reliably quantify gas-hydrate saturations from seismic data.
  • Scaling between millimeter-to-centimeter laboratory sizes (with simple, well-characterized experiments) and hundreds of meter-to-kilometer model results (with large heterogeneity and complexity) remains a major challenge.
  • A newly developing research challenge is to understand the biogeochemical processes in sediment associated with gas hydrate (that is, linking physics, biology, and chemistry).

The last half-day of the workshop involved brainstorming and synthesis, in which all participants identified the five highest-priority hydrate-research topics they felt were required to advance laboratory, field, and modeling studies, within the context of understanding the natural gas-hydrate system. The priorities generally followed the major themes summarized above.

Of particular note is that the primary knowledge gap that repeatedly arose was in characterizing transport and transient phenomena in the gas-hydrate system. The nature of this gap shows that, in the 45 years since gas hydrates have been recognized in the natural environment, the study of natural gas hydrates has finally matured from characterizing the simple, static situation (that is, how to identify and characterize gas hydrates in the Earth) to understanding the time-dependent processes that control their formation and dissociation. A better understanding of these transport and transient phenomena will go a long way toward clarifying and refining the role of gas hydrates as a potential future energy resource, as a hazard within the shallow sea floor, and as an agent of climate change.

Related Sound Waves Stories
USGS and WHOI Investigate Gas-Hydrate Mounds on the Gulf of Mexico Sea Floor
August 2004
Special Sessions on Gas-Hydrate Systems at Fall 2003 AGU Meeting Showcase USGS Work
February 2004
USGS Scientists Discover Gas Hydrate in Southern California During Cruise to Study Offshore Landslides, Earthquake Hazards, and Pollution
November 2003
Gas Hydrate in the Northern Gulf of Mexico Has Puzzling Characteristics and Could Pose a Hazard to Deep Drilling
July 2003
Congressional Briefings on Gas Hydrates
Feb. / Mar. 2003

Related Web Sites
Gas Hydrate Studies
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
A Global Inventory of Natural Gas Hydrate Occurrence
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

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Updated December 02, 2016 @ 12:09 PM (JSS)