Scientific drilling confirmed the presence of natural gas hydrates on the North and Central American continental shelves in late 1970s and early 1980s, but it was only recently that researchers began to seriously assess methane hydrate development. One compelling reason for the focus on methane hydrates is the estimation that reserves could be as great as hundreds of thousands of trillion cubic feet, which is a larger hydrocarbon resource than all of the oil, natural gas and coal resources of the world combined. Although the industry is in the early stages of development, it is clear that if these reserves estimates are accurate, methane hydrate production has the potential to make a significant global impact.
This model of methane hydrate illustrates how the large central methane molecule is enclosed in frozen water such that the water molecules completely surround the methane.
While the reasons for pursuing methane hydrate production are obvious, there are very serious technology challenges that must be overcome before production can take place safely. The US Department of Energy (DOE) methane hydrate program was created to address some of those concerns. The objective of the program is to develop tools and technologies that will allow environmentally safe methane production from arctic and domestic offshore reservoirs. Not surprisingly, R&D is the foundation of the program. The DOE is conducting studies to understand the physical properties of gas hydrate-bearing strata and modeling this understanding at the reservoir scale to predict future behavior and production. Much of the work is being done collaboratively. The DOE is bringing pioneering minds from around the world together to move this technology forward while concurrently focusing efforts on academic studies that address the effects of subsea mining activity on the environment.
Classification society ABS has been associated with subsea mining since the earliest days of development, classing one of the first subsea mining vessels in 1973. Because one of the goals of a classification society is to identify industry needs and emerging technologies that have the ability to open new frontiers, today, the organization is investing in gaining a greater understanding of methane hydrate development, extrapolating years of accumulated oil and gas experience to these challenges.
ABS Consulting, an ABS Group company wholly owned subsidiary of ABS, worked recently with one vessel owner on specifications for a mining vessel, carrying out a risk assessment for a consortium on methane hydrate production flow test operations with the goal of identifying significant hazards and associated risks related to operational interruption. Concurrent with the ABS Group work, both the ABS Singapore and Shanghai Engineering Offices are carrying out design review of multiple mining vessels.
Sudheer Chand, ABS Director, Corporate Offshore Technology in Houston, has more than 30 years of broad industry experience, encompassing shipbuilding and repair and filling the roles of chief engineer and surveyor. In his present position, he researches emerging technologies and their potential role in future offshore oil and gas operations.
Chand holds degrees in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA and an Unlimited Chief Engineer’s License from the Board of Trade, UK.