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UNEP/GRID-Arendal to Explore Methane Gas Hydrates; Implications for Society and Environment

Arendal, Norway – Global reservoirs of methane gas have long been the topic of scientific discussion both in the realm of environmental issues such as natural forces of climate change and as a potential energy resource for economic development. Of particular interest are the volumes of methane locked away in frozen molecules known as ‘methane hydrates’.

Methane gas hydrates are formed when gas and water are brought together in a relatively unusual environment of high pressure and low temperature. Examples include beneath thick frozen soils in the Arctic and in certain settings in the global oceans.

Although rough estimates of the global volume of occurrences of methane gas hydrates are as high as 22,000 trillion cubic meters, it is generally agreed that only a small percentage of this might ever be recoverable. In the United States alone, the United States Geological Survey estimates the resource potential at approximately 5,600 trillion cubic meters. Assuming only 1% recovery, these deposits could meet the natural gas needs of the country (at current rate of consumption of 0.62 trillion cubic meters) for the next 100 years.

In order to synthesize the rapidly evolving scientific knowledge and technological development related to methane hydrates, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), via its collaborating center in Norway, GRID-Arendal, is in the process of conducting a research, ‘Global Outlook on Methane Gas Hydrates’.

Research into the hydrates is being conducted by internationally-renowned scientists from the United States, Canada, Norway, Germany, Japan, India and Korea. Industry is represented by Norwegian producer Statoil and oil services group Schlumberger, while the UK-based NGO Forum for the Future is working to develop possible future scenarios involving methane gas hydrates and the global energy mix.

“Many nations are operating under the assumption that initial gas hydrate production (on a test scale) could occur by 2015, with the more realistic time-frame of 10-15 years for large scale commercial production,” said Yannick Beaudoin, Project Manager at GRID-Arendal.

The main implications of the research into methane hydrates revolve around the possible environmental costs of developing this new energy source versus their overall value to society. However, Mr. Beaudoin notes, “the environmental impact of gas hydrate development cannot be well understood until initial field tests are conducted.”

Ultimately, the research into methane gas hydrates is expected to guide government and industry officials in their decision-making, and produce an online knowledge resource on this important topic.

To follow the progress of the Global Outlook on Methane Gas Hydrate, visit:

Source: UNEP Press Release dated August 23, 2010.