Natural Gas Hydrates

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what are Hydrates

  1. Introduction to Hydrate

Natural gas hydrates are ice-like materials formed under low temperature and high pressure conditions. Natural gas hydrates consist of water molecules interconnected through hydrogen bonds which create an open structural lattice that has the ability to encage smaller hydrocarbons from natural gas or liquid hydrocarbons as guest molecules.

Interest in natural gas hydrates as a potential energy resource has grown significantly in recent years as awareness of the volumes of recoverable gas becomes more focused. The size of this resource has significant implications for worldwide energy supplies should it become technically and economically viable to produce. Although great efforts are being made, there are several unresolved challenges related to all parts in the process towards full scale hydrate reservoir exploitation. Some important issues are: 1) Localize, characterize, and evaluate resources, 2) technology for safe and economic production 3) safety and seafloor stability issues related to drilling and production. Thisarticle gives a brief introduction to natural gas hydrate and its physical properties. Some important characteristics of hydrate accumulations in nature are also discussed.

read also What is Natural Gas

Experimental results presented in this chapter emphasis recent work performed by the authors and others where we investigate the possibilities for producing natural gas from gas hydrate by CO2 replacement. By exposing the hydrate structure to a thermodynamically preferred hydrate former, CO2, it is shown that a spontaneous conversion from methane hydrate to CO2 hydrate occurred. Several experiments have shown this conversion in which the large cavities of hydrates prefer occupation by CO2.

read also Hydrate and Hydrate Prevention

  1. Structures and Properties

There are three known structures of gas hydrates: Structure I (sI), structure II (sII) and structure H (sH). These are distinguished by the size of the cavities and the ratio between large and small cavities. SI and sII contain both a smaller and a larger type of cavity, but the large type cavity of sII is slightly larger than the sI one. The maximum size of guest molecules in sII is butane. SH forms with three types of cavities, two relatively small ones and one quite large.


The symmetry of the cavities leaves an almost spherical accessible volume for the guest molecules. The size and shape of the guest molecule determines which structure is formed due to volumetric packing considerations. Additional characteristics are guest dipole and/or quadropole moments, such as for instance for H2S and CO2. The average partial charges related to these moments may either increase the stability of the hydrate (H2S) or be a decreasing factor in thermodynamic stability (CO2). SII forms with for instance propane and iso-butane and sH with significantly larger molecules, as for instance cyclo-hexane, neo-hexane. Both methane and carbon dioxide form sI hydrate. SI hydrates forms with guest molecules less than 6 Å in diameter. The cages and the number of each cage per unit cell are shown in Figure 1. SI cages are shown at the top of the figure. The unit cell of sI hydrate contains 46 water molecules and consists of 2 small and six large cages.

The unit cell is the smallest symmetric unit of sI. The two smaller cavities are built by 12 pentagonal faces (512) and the larger of 12 pentagonal faces and two hexagon faces (51262). The growth of hydrate adds unit cells to a crystal.

Classification of Hydrate Deposits

hydrate classes

Boswell and Collett, 2006, proposed a resource pyramid to display the relative size and feasibility for production of the different categories of gas hydrate occurrences in nature. The top resources of the gas hydrates resource pyramid are the ones closest to potential commercialization. According to Boswell and Collett, these are occurrences that exist at high saturations within quality reservoirs rocks under existing Arctic infrastructure.

This superior resource type is estimated by US geological survey (USGS) to be in the range of 33 trillion cubic feet of gas-in-place under Alaska’s North Slope. Prospects by British Petroleum and the US DOE anticipate that 12 trillion cubic feet of this resource is recoverable. Even more high-quality reservoirs are found nearby, but some distance away from existing infrastructure (level 2 from top of pyramid). The current USGS estimate for total North Slope resources is approximately 590 Tcf gas-in-places. The third least

challenging group of resources is in high-quality sandstone reservoirs in marine environments, as those found in the Gulf of Mexico, in the vicinity of existing infrastructure.

There is a huge variation in naturally occurring hydrate reservoirs, both in terms of thermodynamic conditions, hosting geological structures and trapping configurations (sealing characteristics and sealing geometry). Hydrates in unconsolidated sand are considered as the main target for production. For the sake of convenience, these types of hydrate occurrences have been further divided into four main classes,

Class 1 deposits are characterized with a hydrate layer above a zone with free gas and water. The hydrate layer is composed with either hydrate and water

(Class 1W) or gas and hydrate (Class 1G). For both, the hydrate stability zone ends at the bottom of the hydrate interval. Class 2 deposits exist where the hydrate bearing layer, overlies a mobile water zone. Class 3 accumulations are characterized by a single zone of hydrate and the absence of an underlying zone of mobile fluids. The fourth class of hydrate deposits is widespread, low saturation accumulations that are not bounded by confining strata that may appear as nodules over large areas. The latter class is generally not regarded as a target for exploitation.

Proposed Production Schemes


The three main methods for hydrate dissociation discussed in the literature are (1) depressurization, where the hydrate pressure is lowered below the hydration pressure PH at the prevailing temperature; (2) thermal stimulation, where the temperature is raised above the hydration temperature TH at the prevailing pressure; and (3) through the use of inhibitors such as salts and alcohols, which causes a shift in the PH-TH equilibrium due to competition with the hydrate for guest and host molecules. The result of hydrate dissociation is production of water and gas and reduction in the saturation of the solid hydrate phase.

Environmental Aspects of Gas Hydrates

  1. Climate change

The natural gas produced from hydrates will generate CO2 upon combustion, but much less than conventional fuel as oil and coal per energy unit generated. The global awareness of climate change will most likely make it more attractive in relation to oil and coal if fossil fuels, as anticipated, continue to be a major fuel for world economies the next several decades. However, increased global temperatures have the potential of bringing both permafrost hydrates and subsea hydrates out of equilibrium. As a consequence, huge amounts of methane may be released to the atmosphere and accelerate the greenhouse effect due to feedback. In general hydrate is not stable towards typical sandstone and will fill pore volume rather than stick to the mineral walls. This implies that if there are imperfections and leakage paths in the sealing mechanisms the hydrate reservoir will leak. There are numerous small and large leaking hydrate reservoirs which results in methane fluxes into the ocean. Some of these fluxes will be reduced through consumption in biological ecosystems or chemical ecosystems. The net flux of methane reaching the atmosphere per

year is still uncertain. Methane is by far a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 (~20 times). hypothesized that major release from methane hydrate caused immense global warming 15 000 years ago. This theory, referred to as “clathrate gun” hypothesis is still regarded as controversial, but is supported in a very recent paper by Kennedy et al. (2008). The role of gas hydrate in global climate change is not adequately understood. For hydrate methane to work as a greenhouse gas, it must travel from the subsurface hydrate to the atmosphere. Rates of dissociation and reactions/destruction of the methane gas on its way through sediment layers, water and air are uncharted.

  1. Geomechanical Stability

Gas hydrates will affect the seafloor stability differently for the different types of hydrate occurrences. All of these hydrate configurations may take part of the skeleton framework that supports overlying sediments, which in turn is the fundament for pipelines and installations needed for production. These concerns have already been established for oil and gas exploitation where oil and gas reservoirs that lie below or nearby hydrate bearing sediments. However, geohazards would potentially be far more severe if gas hydrate is to

be produced from marine hydrate deposits. During melting, the dissociated hydrate zone may lose strength due to under-consolidated sediments and possible over-pressuring due to the newly released gas. If the shear strength is lowered, failure may be triggered by gravitational loading or seismic disturbance that can result in submarine landslides

Several possible oceanic landslides related to hydrate dissociation are reported in the literature. Among these are large submarine slides on the Norwegian shelf in the North Sea  and massive bedding-plane slides and slumps on the Alaskan Beaufort Sea continental margin.

Production of CH4 from hydrates by CO2 exposure

Thermodynamic prediction suggests that replacement of CH4 by CO2 is a favourable process. This section reviews some basic thermodynamics and earlier experimental studies of this CH4-CO2 reformation process to introduce a scientific fundament for the experimental work presented later in this chapter.

Thermodynamics of CO2 and CH4 Hydrate

CO2 and CH4 form both sI hydrates. CH4 molecules can occupy both large and small cages, while CO2 molecules will prefer the large 51262 cage. Under sufficiently high pressures or low temperatures both CO2 and CH4 will be stable, but thermodynamic studies suggest that CH4 hydrates have a higher equilibrium pressure than that of CO2 hydrates for a range of temperatures. A summary of these experiments is presented in Sloan & Koh,

shows the equilibrium conditions for CO2 and CH4 hydrate in a P-T diagram. This plot is produced using the CSMGem software (Sloan & Koh, 2008), which supplies the most recent thermodynamic predictions.

CO2-CH4 exchange in bulk

Based on the knowledge of increased thermodynamic stability it was hypothesized that CO2 could replace and recover CH4 molecules if exposed to CH4 hydrate .

Several early researchers investigated the CO2-CH4 exchange mechanism as a possible way of producing methane from hydrates. These studies emphasized the thermodynamic driving forces that favour this exchange reaction, though many of the results showed significant kinetic limitations. Many of these early

studies dealt with bulk methane hydrate samples placed in contact with liquid or gaseous CO2, where available surfaces for interaction were limited., studied the CO2-CH4 exchange process in a high pressure cell using powdered CH4 hydrate and then exposed it to CO2. They observed a fairly rapid initial conversion during the first 200 minutes, which then slowed down significantly. found remarkable recovery of methane hydrate by using CO2 and N2 mixtures. They found that N2 would compete with CH4 for occupancy of the smaller sI cages, while CO2 would occupy only the larger sI cage – without any challenge of other guests. They also found that sII and sH would convert to sI and yield high recoveries (64-95%) when exposed to CO2 or CO2-N2 mixtures.

An inherent limitation in this experiment is the absence of mineral surfaces and the corresponding impact of liquids that may separate minerals from hydrates. These liquid channels may serve as transport channels as well as increased hydrate/fluid contact areas.

CO2-CH4 Exchange in Porous Media

Lee et al., 2003 studied the formation of CH4 hydrate, and the subsequent reformation into CO2 hydrate in porous silica. CH4 hydrate was formed at 268 K and 215 bar while the conversion reaction was studied at 270 K. The temperatures in the ice stability region could have an impact on the reformation mechanisms since ice may form at intermediate stages of opening and closing of cavities and partial structures during the reformation. Temperatures below zero may also have an impact in the case where water separates minerals from hydrates. Preliminary studies of the CO2 exchange process in sediments showed slow methane production when the P-T conditions were near the methane hydrate stability and at CO2 pressure values near saturation levels .The research presented below revisit the CO2- CH4 exchange process in hydrates formed in porous media, this time in larger sandstone core plugs and well within the hydrate stability for both CO2 and CH4 hydrate, and outside the regular ice stab

1. Gas Treating – Absorption Theory and Practice – DAG A. EIMER
2. Fundamentals of Natural Gas, Arthur J. Kidnay & William R. Parrish