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USGS News: Energy
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News about energy from the USGS
News about energy from the USGS

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STEP-UP to Science: Engaging Young Adults with Disabilities: Modeled after a successful program in USGS headquarters near Washington, DC, the program is expanding to three school districts in the San Francisco Bay Area. Starting the week of January 16, eleven students from three school districts in Santa Clara County, California, will begin projects at USGS’s Menlo Park campus. The partner school districts are the Palo Alto Unified School District, Fremont Union High School District and the Santa Clara Unified School District. USGS is recognized as a leader among federal science agencies in training, leveraging the unique strengths of students with cognitive disabilities while allowing them to explore STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers, expand their employment opportunities, and become part of a diverse USGS workforce for the future. What: Kick-off reception for USGS STEP-UP hiring program for disabled young adults. Who: Participating students, teachers, job coaches, district superintendents and school board members from: Palo Alto Unified School District, Fremont Union High School District, and Santa Clara Unified School District Representatives from Bay Area congressional offices, elected state officials USGS host supervisor scientists, and USGS leadership and staff When: Wednesday, January 17, 2018, 9:30 – 10:30 a.m. (Reception) and 11:00 a.m. (Observation of students working) Where: U.S. Geological Survey California Conference Room, Bldg. 3, 2nd floor 345 Middlefield Road Menlo Park, California RSVP: Leslie Gordon, lgordon@usgs.gov, 650-329-4006   The USGS is forming partnerships at its various offices across the nation with local school districts and universities with established job training and transition programs. USGS identifies specific projects relevant to the work of its scientists, and then matches students to the projects based on their individual interests and aptitude. The school districts provide job coaches and onsite oversight. The USGS STEP-UP Program will: - Advance USGS science by making USGS data more quickly available to more scientists. - Support the USGS Fundamental Science Practices by properly archiving data and collections. - Supplement the USGS budget by using volunteers to achieve measurable work. - Support the Federal Government’s goal of building a more inclusive and diverse workforce by becoming a model for job-training of people with cognitive disabilities. - Increase the diversity of the USGS workforce by hiring some of the STEP-UP program graduates.   Student and job coach participting in the STEP-UP progam at U.S. Geological Survey.(Public domain) Young woman employeed at the U.S. Geological Survey as part of the STEP-UP program.(Public domain.) #energy

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New Interior Department Survey Shows Significant Increase in Recoverable Energy Resources in Federal, State and Tribal Lands and Waters in Alaska: (WASHINGTON) Today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke  released an updated resource assessment for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A), the Western Beaufort Sea, adjacent State and Native lands, and State waters , which estimates the mean undiscovered, technically recoverable resources both on and offshore to include 17.6 billion barrels of oil and more than 50 trillion cubic feet of gas. “Earlier this year I visited the North Slope to talk with Alaska Natives and elected officials about what responsible energy development means for the communities and the state. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the message was clear: the path to American Energy Dominance starts in Alaska,” said Secretary Zinke. “Today’s updated assessment is a big step toward that goal. Thanks to the incredible work of scientists at the USGS and BOEM, we know what’s available and what our potential is. That’s important because with the scientific knowledge, industry partners are more willing to explore the area. New discoveries have changed our geologic knowledge of the area - and these assessments show that the North Slope will remain an important energy hub for decades to come in order to meet the energy needs of our nation." This map shows the assessment units of the USGS assessment of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and adjacent state and Tribal lands and waters. (Public domain.) The assessment was conducted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) which are all bureaus under the management of the Department. USGS led onshore efforts and BOEM led offshore efforts with data contributed by BLM. Additional information was provided by state and industry partners. Onshore, USGS estimates a mean of 8.7 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of gas. This is a significant increase from the 2010 resource assessment which estimated a mean of 1.5 billion barrels of oil.  Offshore, BOEM’s revised estimates of mean undiscovered technically recoverable resources in the Beaufort Sea Outer Continental Shelf  Planning Area are 8.9 billion barrels of oil and 27.7 trillion cubic feet of gas. BOEM’s updated assessment resulted in a net increase of nearly 700 million barrels of oil equivalent over BOEM’s 2016 Beaufort Sea Planning Area assessment.  The rest of the news release can be found at the Department of the Interior's Newsroom. Permafrost forms a grid-like pattern in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a 22.8 million acre region managed by the Bureau of Land Management on Alaska's North Slope. USGS has periodically assessed oil and gas resource potential there. These assessments can be found here. (Credit: David Houseknecht, USGS. Public domain.) #energy

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Re-Assessing Alaska's Energy Frontier: The new USGS assessment estimates 8.7 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas resources. This is a more than sixfold increase from the previous USGS estimates in the region, which include parts of the 2005 Central North Slope assessment and the 2010 NPR-A assessment. This map shows the assessment units of the USGS assessment of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and adjacent state and Tribal lands and waters.(Public domain.) Driven by Discoveries The USGS decision to reassess the NPR-A came after several industry announcements of potential large discoveries in the area, much greater than previously thought. The Pikka and Horseshoe oil discoveries near the Colville River delta just outside NPR-A were announced in 2015 and 2017. Industry announcements suggest that the two discoveries 21 miles apart likely are in the same oil pool, which may hold more than 1 billion barrels of recoverable oil. “Advances in technology and our understanding of petroleum geology are constantly moving forward,” said Walter Guidroz, program coordinator of the USGS Energy Resources Program. “That’s why the USGS re-evaluates and updates our assessments, to give decision-makers the best available science to manage our natural resources.” Industry announced the discovery of the Willow oil pool in the Nanushuk Formation in NPR-A in 2017 with estimated resources of more than 300 million barrels of oil. Multiple wells have been announced to be drilled during the 2017-2018 winter drilling season at both Pikka-Horseshoe and Willow to further delineate these discoveries. Industry announced an oil discovery in the deeper Torok Formation at Smith Bay, less than one mile offshore from NPR-A, in 2016 to hold more than 1 billion barrels of oil. Another oil discovery in the Torok Formation was announced in 2015 at the Cassin prospect in NPR-A, not far from the Willow discovery. No plans for additional industry drilling have yet been announced at either Smith Bay or Cassin. Permafrost forms a grid-like pattern in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a 22.8 million acre region managed by the Bureau of Land Management on Alaska's North Slope. USGS has periodically assessed oil and gas resource potential there. These assessments can be found here. (Credit: David Houseknecht, USGS. Public domain.) Uncertainty at the Frontier’s Edge Although the USGS has a range of potential for the new estimates of oil and gas resources, there is significant uncertainty with these values. Until further wells are drilled and oil production is initiated, it is difficult to be certain about the resource potential. Nevertheless, a sufficient amount of data is available to confirm that the potential size of oil pools in the Nanushuk and Torok Formations is six times larger than previously thought. Prior to 2015, about 150 exploration wells had penetrated the Nanushuk and Torok Formations, and oil discoveries were limited to a few small oil pools (less than 10 million barrels) in stratigraphic traps and one larger oil pool (more than 70 million barrels) in a structural trap. The new USGS assessment of the Nanushuk and Torok Formations estimated that oil and gas resources are not uniformly distributed across the region, and divided each formation into three assessment units. These assessment units were defined based on geological character documented using data from seismic-reflection surveys, exploration wells, and outcrops. This assessment did not include rocks older than the Torok Formation in NPR-A because those rocks have not been penetrated by exploration drilling since previously assessed in 2010, and thus no new information is available about their oil and gas potential. The 2010 assessment of those older rocks in NPR-A estimated that they hold 86 million barrels of oil and nearly 15 trillion cubic feet of gas. Fish Creek wanders through the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a 22.8 million acre region managed by the Bureau of Land Management on Alaska's North Slope. USGS has periodically assessed oil and gas resource potential there. These assessments can be found here. (Credit: David Houseknecht, USGS. Public domain.) Start with Science USGS assessments are for undiscovered, technically recoverable resources. Undiscovered resources are those that are estimated to exist based on geologic knowledge and theory, while technically recoverable resources are those that can be produced using currently available technology and industry practices. These assessments of oil and gas resources follow a publicly available, peer-reviewed methodology that is used for all USGS conventional resource assessments. That allows resource managers, decision-makers and others to make apples-to-apples comparisons across all of the Nation’s petroleum-producing basins. In addition, USGS periodically reassesses basins to ensure that the latest trends in industry production, new discoveries, or updates in our understanding of the geology are reflected in the USGS resource estimates. The 2017 USGS National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska assessment can be found here. For more information on USGS oil and gas assessments, please visit our Energy Resources Program website, sign up for our newsletter, and follow us on Twitter. #energy

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USGS Estimates 40 Million Pounds of Potential Uranium Resources in Parts of Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma: The U.S. Geological Survey estimates a mean of 40 million pounds of in-place uranium oxide remaining as potential undiscovered resources in the Southern High Plains region of Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. The uranium occurs in a type of rock formation called “calcrete,” which has been well-documented in noted uranium-producing countries like Australia and Namibia. The calcrete formations described in this assessment are the first uranium-bearing calcrete deposits reported in the United States. A calcrete outcropping near Sulfur Springs Draw in Texas. This deposit dates to the Pliocene and Pleistocene, and hosts uranium-vanadate minerals.(Credit: Susan Hall, USGS. Public domain.) The United States is the world’s largest consumer of uranium used in nuclear power plants, which provide approximately 19 percent of the Nation’s electricity. Substantial uranium resources are identified in the United States, yet only 11 percent of uranium purchased by civilian nuclear power reactors during 2016 was obtained from domestic sources. “Planning for long-term sustainable nuclear power in the United States requires evaluation of both identified and potential undiscovered resources,” said Tom Crafford, program coordinator for the USGS Mineral Resources Program. “That’s where USGS science comes in. Identifying and understanding our domestic mineral wealth is a vital part of ensuring the security of our supply chain for these resources.” The areas covered in this uranium assessment.(Public domain.) The assessment focuses on a region known as the Southern High Plains, which stretch from eastern New Mexico across North Texas to western Oklahoma. The assessment area is divided into a northern and southern portion, with the southern portion estimated to contain 80 percent of the undiscovered resources. For comparison, the two known deposits, Buzzard Draw and Sulfur Springs Draw, both located in Texas, contain a combined total of 2.7 million pounds of uranium oxide. “Texas is well-known for its energy potential, from petroleum to wind to uranium,” said Walter Guidroz, program coordinator of the USGS Energy Resources Program. “In fact, in 2015, we released another assessment of uranium in South Texas, where we estimated a mean of about 5 years of U.S. uranium needs.” Intergrown Finchite and Carnotite (yellowish minerals) with Celestine (white/clear mineral). (Image courtesy of Travis Olds, University of Notre Dame) The current assessment of the Southern High Plains yielded another surprise—a new uranium mineral species. Discovered near Sulphur Springs Draw in Texas, the new mineral was named finchite, after long-time USGS uranium scientist Warren Finch (1924—2014). “This assessment was especially exciting for us, as not only did we get to discover a new species of mineral, but we also had the opportunity to honor a friend and celebrated colleague,” said USGS scientist Susan Hall, lead author of the assessment. “Dr. Finch’s long service and contributions to uranium science now live on through this new mineral, which itself has the potential to contribute to the Nation’s energy mix.” The Southern High Plains of New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. USGS conducted a uranium assessment in this region in 2015.(Public domain.) Finchite is a unique combination of strontium, uranium, vanadium, and water, and is a potential source of mineable uranium ore. Today, it is part of the Southern High Plains, a region that has drawn little attention for uranium resource potential. That may change, given the qualities of the uranium deposits. “The calcrete uranium deposits within this region have the advantage of shallow depth and soft host rock,” said USGS scientist Brad Van Gosen, co-author of the assessment. “These qualities work well for open-pit mining, assuming uranium prices and other factors are favorable.” USGS scientist Bradley Van Gosen examines rock layers for the newly discovered mineral finchite near Lamesa, Texas. Van Gosen was the first to recognize the existence of the new mineral, which was named for long-time USGS uranium geologist Warren Finch. Read more about our uranium research here. (Credit: Susan Hall, USGS. Public domain.) The assessment can be accessed here. Other USGS research regarding uranium potential can be found here. Stay up to date with USGS energy science by subscribing to our Newsletter or following us on Twitter. #energy

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Geologic Groundwork-How USGS Coal Assessments Assist EIA's Coal Forecasts: Coal is loaded into trucks at the Trapper Mine in northwest Colorado. (Credit: David C. Scott, USGS. Public domain.) For instance, in just one part of the energy sector—coal—the United States consumed just under 800 million short tons in 2015, which supplied a little over 30 percent of the Nation’s electricity. Those numbers come from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, where Coal and Uranium Analysis team lead Greg Adams works. “My team provides the public with projections of U.S. short and long-term coal production and market conditions by major coal producing basin, including coal transportation,” said Adams. These projections are grounded in massive amounts of data collected on the U.S. and international coal industries, including everything from the potential resources in the ground to the finished products provided to power plants as fuel for electricity. Laying the Geologic Groundwork Some of that information comes from U.S. Geological Survey assessments of coal basins in the United States. The USGS has long provided estimates of remaining coal resources, which are based on minimum thickness and maximum depth of cover parameters. A chart showing the estimated tonnage of each resource type in the Powder River Basin according to the 2015 USGS assessment: https://go.usa.gov/xnY4R  (Public domain.) However, beginning with the 2015 assessment of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, the USGS began to calculate recoverable coal resources and coal reserves from the remaining coal resources.  Recoverable coal resources are calculated by subtracting coal resources that are lost due to environmental, societal, or legal restrictions, as well as those that are lost due to geological constraints and mining technology limitations.  Coal reserves, meanwhile, are the portion of recoverable coal resources that can be extracted profitably. Adams welcomes the changes. “We are working with the coal assessment project at USGS to align our reserve base definitions in an attempt to timely leverage these updates by USGS to ensure the public is adequately informed in a cost-effective manner,” he said.       A map of the various coal fields of the conterminous United States. (Public domain.) The USGS data will join that of state geological surveys to support the publication of EIA’s U.S. Annual Energy Outlook, Short-Term Energy Outlook, and International Energy Outlook products. These are then used by policy makers, industry analysts, electric utilities, other government agencies, academia, and the general public to better inform decisions pertaining to the energy sector. Even in an industry with as long a history as coal has had, it’s important to Adams that the information provided by EIA keeps pace with the changes that are occurring. Read More: U.S. Energy Information Administration Coal Information USGS Coal Project   #energy

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Assessments Evolved: USGS Coal Research in the 21st Century: This is anthracite, the highest rank of coal. It is a hard, brittle, and black lustrous coal, often referred to as hard coal, containing a high percentage of fixed carbon and a low percentage of volatile matter. Anthracite is not as commonly mined as other ranks of coal. It played a significant role in Pennsylvania coal during the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Learn more about our coal research here: https://energy.usgs.gov/Coal/AssessmentsandData/CoalAssessments.aspx(Credit: Donna Pizzarelli, USGS. Public domain.) Here at the USGS, we have studied coal for more than 100 years, and worked with others, predominantly state geological surveys, to provide the basic geological research and  information to assess the Nation’s coal resources. We also coordinate with other federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management and the Energy Information Administration (EIA), who also have responsibilities for managing coal resources or reporting coal information. The largest and most well-known areas of coal the USGS has assessed are the Appalachian Basin and Illinois Basin in the eastern U.S. and the Williston Basin, Colorado Plateau,  and the Powder River Basin in the western United States. But just as the role for coal has evolved over the years years, so have our scientific methodologies and procedures used in assessing this important resource. A map of the various coal fields of the conterminous United States.(Public domain.) It’s Not How Much There Is, But How Much You Can Get Traditionally, USGS coal assessments have focused on the remaining coal resources in a basin or region, based on minimum thickness and maximum depth of cover parameters.   However, beginning with our 2015 assessment of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, we began to calculate recoverable coal resources and coal reserves from the remaining coal resources.  Recoverable coal resources are calculated by subtracting coal resources that are lost due to environmental, societal, or legal restrictions, as well as those that are lost due to geological constraints and mining technology limitations.  Coal reserves, meanwhile, are the portion of recoverable coal resources that can be extracted profitably.   The amount of recoverable coal resources is usually much smaller than the amount of remaining coal resources.   Likewise, coal reserves are usually just a small fraction of the recoverable coal resources.   A chart showing the various stages of certainty in coal resources.(Public domain.) For instance, in 2015, we estimated that the Powder River Basin contained a mean of about 1.07 trillion short tons of remaining coal resources. That’s how much coal we believe to be in the entire Powder River Basin. Of that 1.07 trillion short tons, we estimated that about 162 billion short tons were recoverable coal resources, after environmental, societal, and legal restrictions, geological constraints, and technological limitations were determined. Finally, out of that 162 billion short tons of recoverable coal resources, we estimated that only 25 billion short tons could be classified as coal reserves, based on the average price of Powder River Basin coal when we conducted the assessment. So, as a result, the 1.07 trillion short tons of remaining coal resources in the Powder River Basin yields an estimated 25 billion short tons of coal reserves, or 2.3 percent of the remaining coal resources, based on the price of coal in 2013. This is important because it gives resource managers and companies a more complete picture of the amount of coal in the Powder River Basin. The USGS is taking this approach forward in our current and future assessments of coal resources. Currently, we are assessing coal resources and reserves in the Green River Basin of Colorado and Wyoming. The Green River Basin contains large amounts of coal resources that have not been assessed in detail in previous assessment studies and much of the coal resources in this area lie under Federal lands, which we are mandated by Congress to assess.  Additionally, we have acquired a large amount of previously proprietary and unavailable geological data for this area.   A map of the Greater Green River Basin in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming showing the coal assessment areas. (Public Domain) Mapping the Cost Curves One of the difficulties in determining coal reserves is that they fluctuate with the price of coal.  What may be profitable to mine one day may not be the next, as prices for commodities like coal can vary significantly. An assessment of coal reserves needs to be able to account for those changes. In fact, current coal reserve estimates are not static: reserves grow and shrink as coal prices change. If reserve volumes shrink, it does not always mean that the amount of coal in the ground has changed-it can reflect  that less of the coal resources can be mined profitably.  If the price of coal increases, then the amount of recoverable coal resources classified as coal reserves may increase. Coal mine in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana(Credit: USGS. Public domain.) In our 2015 Powder River Basin assessment, we met the challenges of changing prices by including a cost curve that would allow readers to estimate what portions of the recoverable coal resources could be considered reserves at various price points. The current and upcoming assessments in the Green River Basin will include similar cost curves.  We are working to make them even more sophisticated and accurate through price analysis and economic modeling based on analogs of mining operations in the region.   A sample of lignite, the lowest rank of coal. It is primarily mined for burning in steam-generation power plants. Read more about our coal research here: https://energy.usgs.gov/Coal/AssessmentsandData/CoalAssessments.aspx(Credit: Donna Pizzarelli, USGS. Public domain.) Refining the Models As technology and modeling have advanced in recent years, what they can tell us about what lies beneath the Earth’s surface has also greatly expanded. Because some of these formations are extremely large and located hundreds, even thousands of feet below ground, models are essential to allowing us to accurately estimate coal resources and reserves. To make sure our models are providing us the best information, we have started including stochastic geostatistical analysis modeling to determine the optimum spacing for test drill holes. The current standard, as prescribed in USGS Circular 891, is to drill test holes at an arbitrary spacing (every quarter mile) to collect geologic data.  The geologic data is modeled using mathematical algorithms to extrapolate out from the test drill holes to the entire formation. By utilizing geostatistical modeling, we can define the optimum spacing for drill holes needed to best define the geology. In addition, we are looking at the other end of our assessments-how resource managers can use the assessments to help make the best decisions on how to address the resource potential. One of the ways we are doing this is by utilizing the assessments to determine which areas possess the optimum combination of mineable coal thickness, cover or overburden, and favorable geologic conditions to warrant further exploration and possible economic development. USGS coal project personnel visiting Trapper Mine in northwest Colorado in June, 2016.(Credit: Brian Shaffer, USGS. Public domain.) Start with Science The United States is richly endowed with coal resources.  Coal has been and will remain, into the foreseeable future, an integral part of the fuel mix for the Nation’s electrical supply.  It is also critical to the revitalization of the Nation’s infrastructure, as some coal, known as metallurgical coal, provides the carbon used in the making of steel.  Even though the Powder River Basin is the largest deposit of low-sulfur, sub-bituminous coal in the world, it is just one of many large coal basins in the United States capable of providing sufficient coal resources for both electrical generation and steel making processes.  The USGS will continue to provide critical information for the Government, as well as for private industry, to define the location, extent, thickness, and quality of the Nation’s coal resources and reserves.   Read More USGS Energy Resources Program-Coal Assessments Meet our Coal Team! See our Methodology for Assessments USGS Energy Twitter Account U.S. Energy Information Administration - Coa #energy

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Exploring Gas Hydrates as a Future Energy Source: Also known as natural gas hydrate, these unique hydrocarbons have solid crystalline structures filled with super-concentrated methane gas. Some estimates put the amount of natural gas locked up worldwide in hydrate formations as equal to the amount of natural gas available in all other known natural gas resources. In Alaska, a partnership between Federal and State governmental agencies and the Government of Japan formed to explore the gas hydrate potential and how it could be recovered. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist Tim Collett, an originator of the partnership, saw Alaska as the perfect place for the research. Enormous Potential in Alaska “Between the rich deposits of gas hydrate and the presence of many potential partners, Alaska was an ideal location to begin studying gas hydrate,” said Collett. “More than 35 years later, our cooperative research partnerships are still going strong.” Currently, the research is focused on the Alaska North Slope, where a 2008 USGS assessment of undiscovered gas hydrate resources estimated that 85.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be recovered using today’s technology. Diane Shellenbaum, from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, sees an opportunity for significant progress in the long-term goal of establishing the commercial viability of producing permafrost-associated gas hydrates. “Gas hydrates are an enormous potential resource on the North Slope of Alaska, one that could provide a significant source of energy and support for Alaskans and our country in the future,” said Shellenbaum. “We’re excited to be part of leading-edge research that has real potential to make a significant contribution to the world’s energy needs and especially to the lives of future Alaskans.” Ray Boswell, from the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), sees a similar opportunity. He and his colleagues at NETL are focused on developing national-scale research and production capabilities for gas hydrate. “We at NETL are very interested in advancing the science and technology needed to properly assess the implications of naturally occurring gas hydrate on the global environment and on future energy supply options,” said Boswell. After the assessment, the research is now looking at production methods and refining understanding of the geology at places where hydrates form on land. This is a priority for Norihiro Okinaka, with the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, NETL’s international partner on the Alaska North Slope Project. “We are applying and improving technologies for oil and gas fields for the exploration and field verification of gas hydrate production techniques here on the North Slope so we can refine our marine exploration as well,” said Okinaka. “If successful, Japan can dramatically raise its self-sufficiency ratio if it can develop marine energy. This is our final target.” Scientists examine gas hydrate samples cut from the core drilled at the Mt. Elbert test site. Some of these samples were then squeezed to extract and examine pore water samples and analyze for thermal properties. Photograph credit: Tim Collett, USGS Science at the Ground Floor The USGS was in on the ground floor with this research project and continues to provide its partners with valuable science for future production and development research. “USGS provides solid science, continuity, and the ability to provide the high-level expertise and long-term focus that does not exist anywhere else,” said Shellenbaum. Mr. Okinaka agrees, “As the United States and Japan collaborate toward [an] onshore, long-term production test in Alaska, USGS’s vast amount of knowledge [about the] Alaska North Slope is very helpful for managing the program.” “Working with global scientific leaders—including those in the USGS, such as Dr. Tim Collett—on the many challenging scientific issues posed by gas hydrate, not only in Alaska but throughout the world, has been one of my favorite parts of this project,” said Boswell. In 2007, a partnership of government and industry scientists assembled at Mt. Elbert in the North Slope of Alaska. Using industry equipment, a well was drilled and a core was extracted. The core was then cut into samples and analyzed. Photograph credit: Tim Collett, USGS     #energy

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EarthWord–Gas Hydrate: EarthWords is an on-going series in which we shed some light on the complicated, often difficult-to-pronounce language of science. Think of us as your terminology tour-guides, and meet us back here every week for a new word! During Ocean Drilling Program Leg 204, nine sites were cored and wireline logged on the Oregon continental margin to determine the distribution and concentration of gas hydrates in an accretionary ridge setting, investigate the mechanisms that transport methane and other gases into the gas hydrate stability zone, and obtain constraints on physical properties of gas hydrates in situ. This image shows gas hydrates (the white material) in marine sediments. (Courtesy of Ocean Drilling Program) The EarthWord: Gas Hydrate Definition: Here’s a riddle: when can ice burn? When it’s a gas hydrate! Gas hydrate is a naturally-occurring, ice-like form of methane and water that is stable within a narrow range of pressure and temperature conditions.  These conditions are mostly found in undersea sediments at water depths greater than 1000 to 1650 ft and in and beneath permafrost (permanently frozen ground) at high latitudes. Etymology: Gas comes from the Greek word khaos, meaning “empty space.” It was first coined by Flemish chemist J.B. van Helmont to refer to vapors. Hydrate, meanwhile, comes from the Greek hydor, meaning “water.” It was first used by French chemist Joseph-Louis Proust to refer to a combination of water and another chemical. This image shows gas hydrates (the white material) in marine sediments from a test well drilled in the Indian Ocean in 2006 during the Indian National Gas Hydrate Program (NGHP) Expedition 01. The NGHP Expedition 01 was designed to study the gas-hydrate occurrences off the Indian Peninsula and along the Andaman convergent margin with special emphasis on understanding the geologic and geochemical controls on the occurrence of gas hydrate in these two diverse settings. During NGHP Expedition 01, dedicated gas-hydrate coring, drilling, and downhole logging operations were conducted from 28 April 2006 to 19 August 2006. The NGHP Expedition 01 was planned and managed through a collaboration between the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (India), the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Consortium for Scientific Methane Hydrate Investigations led by Overseas Drilling Limited and FUGRO McClelland Marine Geosciences. Read more about the expedition here. (Credit: Tim Collett, USGS. Public domain.) Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community: Gas hydrate, especially the version that contains methane, is of great interest to both climate and energy science. On a global scale, gas hydrate deposits store enormous amounts of methane at relatively shallow depths, making them particularly susceptible to the changes in temperature that accompany climate change.  Methane itself is also a potent greenhouse gas, and some researchers have suggested that methane released by the breakdown of gas hydrate during past climate events may have exacerbated global warming. In addition, the amount of methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, within the world’s gas hydrate accumulations is estimated to greatly exceed the volume of all known conventional natural gas resources. A drill rig at the Mallik test site in Canada's Mckenzie Delta.  USGS joined the Geological Survey of Canada, JAPEX, and the Japanese National Oil Company to drill test wells for natural gas production from gas hydrate deposits. Read more about the Mallik project here. (Credit: Tim Collett, USGS. Public domain.) USGS Use: The USGS Gas Hydrates Project focuses on gas hydrates in the natural environment and seeks to advance understanding of the potential of gas hydrates as an energy resource; the role of gas hydrates in climate change, as well as their susceptibility to climate change; and gas hydrates and the stability of submarine slopes. The Hydrate Pressure Core Analysis Laboratory (HyPrCAL) is the newest USGS Gas Hydrates Project facility and supports some of the Project’s energy research at the Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center.  HyPrCAL was the first facility in the U.S. solely designed for and dedicated to the analysis of pressure cores. In 2017, USGS and the University of Rochester released an interpretive review of all published literature regarding the interactions of climate and methane hydrates, and concluded that the risk of massive methane releases to the atmosphere due to gas hydrate breakdown was small. In 2016, USGS participated in an announcement of a potentially producible deposit of gas hydrate in the Indian Ocean’s Bay of Bengal. Natural gas from gas hydrates burning. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is the most common of the gases that form gas hydrate. In fact, the amount of natural gas within the world’s gas hydrate accumulations is estimated to greatly exceed the volume of all known conventional gas resources. Because of that potential, the USGS and academic, government, and private industry scientists and engineers have been studying how to produce natural gas from hydrates for many decades. Read more about our gas hydrate research here. Image courtesy of the Department of Energy. (Public domain.) Next EarthWord: Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science. #energy

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When Ice Yields Fire: What are Gas Hydrates? Gas hydrate forms when water and natural gas combine under specific pressure and temperature conditions to make an ice-like solid. The water forms a crystalline cage that traps the gas in such a way that the hydrate can contain quite a lot of gas. Gas hydrates are known to be widespread in permafrost regions and beneath the sea in sediments of outer continental margins. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is the most common of the gases that form gas hydrate. In fact, the amount of natural gas within the world’s gas hydrate accumulations is estimated to greatly exceed the volume of all known conventional gas reserves. Because of that potential, the USGS and academic, government, and private industry scientists and engineers have for many decades been studying how to produce natural gas from hydrate formations. During Ocean Drilling Program Leg 204, nine sites were cored and wireline logged on the Oregon continental margin to determine the distribution and concentration of gas hydrates in an accretionary ridge setting, investigate the mechanisms that transport methane and other gases into the gas hydrate stability zone, and obtain constraints on physical properties of gas hydrates in situ. This image shows the drilling rig on the Drillship JOIDES Resolution. (Courtesy of Ocean Drilling Program) Foundations of Gas Hydrate Research The potential for water to form hydrates with a gas was first discovered in the early 1800s, but the natural occurrence of gas hydrates wasn’t discovered until the 1960s in Siberia. In the 1980s the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) began a partnership to explore the possibility of producing natural gas on a large scale from hydrate deposits. Since then, USGS, DOE, and many other domestic and international groups have conducted a growing number of field tests, laboratory studies, and geophysical analyses in many places around the world to determine the distribution of gas hydrate and the conditions under which production of natural gas from hydrate would be possible. A drill rig at the Mallik test site in Canada's Mckenzie Delta.  USGS joined the Geological Survey of Canada, JAPEX, and the Japanese National Oil Company to drill test wells for natural gas production from gas hydrate deposits. Read more about the Mallik project here. (Credit: Tim Collett, USGS. Public domain.) Probing the Permafrost The U.S. Arctic has been a particular focus for USGS and its partners due to relative accessibility of the widespread gas hydrate deposits within the permafrost of the Alaskan North Slope. Following involvement in test wells drilled at Mallik in Canada’s Mackenzie River Delta, USGS participated in the development of a research consortium to drill the Mt. Elbert prospect near the giant oil fields of Prudhoe Bay in 2007.  The USGS used samples retrieved during the drilling to conduct exhaustive research on the sediment properties controlling the distribution of gas hydrates on the North Slope. With the support of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the USGS used the results of the Mt. Elbert test well to complete the first-ever assessment of natural gas resources that are technically recoverable from hydrate deposits.  A technically recoverable deposit is one from which gas can be produced using current technology.   A sample of gas hydrate from the Mallik Test Well in Canada. Credit: USGS. (Public domain.) In 2008, USGS announced that the Alaska North Slope contained an estimated 85.4 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas resources in the form of gas hydrate.  Although no commercial production has begun, the underlying approach to geophysical and geological analyses for that assessment has been used by private companies and other government and academic scientists to guide gas hydrate research in other parts of the world. The USGS is in the process of updating the assessment of gas hydrate resource potential for the Alaska North Slope based on advances that have occurred since 2008. In parallel with the resource assessments being led and supported by the USGS, BLM, and the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the USGS is performing a life-cycle analysis of five North Slope gas hydrate fields, modeling how much natural gas might be produced, the potential impacts of production on the environment, and the economic implications of such production. In April and May of 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy the U.S. Geological Survey collaborated with an industry consortium to conduct the first ever drilling project with the expressed goal to collect geologic data on gas-hydrate-bearing sand reservoirs in the Gulf of Mexico. Their findings suggest that the U.S. Gulf of Mexico does indeed contain thick and concentrated gas-hydrate-bearing reservoir rocks which have the potential to produce gas using current technology. Read more about the research project here. (Image courtesy of Helix Energy Solutions) Analyzing the Abyss In deepwater gas hydrate settings, the USGS has since 2005 participated in three major expeditions to drill test wells in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  These research test wells have provided details about the formation and concentration of gas hydrates in deep ocean sediments and about the potential of gas production from such deposits. In 2005 and 2009, the research test wells were drilled by a group led by the DOE, USGS, BOEM, and U.S. and international energy industry partners under the direction of Chevron. These test wells confirmed that high-concentration gas hydrate deposits that could potentially produce recoverable gas existed in the northern Gulf of Mexico. In 2017, DOE sponsored a follow-up expedition led by the University of Texas at Austin in the northern Gulf of Mexico and tested pressure coring equipment to recover hydrate-bearing sediments at their in situ (deep seafloor) pressures in order to maintain the gas hydrate intact.  Pressure coring technology has advanced rapidly since the mid-1990s and has previously been used for both U.S. and international gas hydrates drilling programs. The 2017 expedition marked the first extensive use of pressure coring in the northern Gulf of Mexico and involved researchers from the USGS, Geotek, Ltd., and other organizations.   USGS physical scientist Lee-Gray Boze and research engineer Junbong Jang depressurize one of the test chambers that make up the Pressure Core Characterization Tools in HyPrCAL, the new USGS pressure core analysis facility.  Inset photograph shows the new laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Credit: USGS. (Public domain.) A Partner under Pressure The Hydrate Pressure Core Analysis Laboratory (HyPrCAL) is the newest USGS Gas Hydrates Project facility and supports some of the Project’s energy research at the Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center.  HyPrCAL was the first facility in the U.S. solely designed for and dedicated to the analysis of pressure cores. The laboratory is currently analyzing hydrate-bearing pressure cores from the Indian Ocean.  Pressure coring not only retrieves hydrate-bearing samples at their seafloor pressure conditions, but also allows the recovered cores to be held at high pressure in cold storage, thereby preventing breakdown or dissociation of the gas hydrate.  The USGS HyPrCAL facility is studying the strength, permeability, electrical and thermal properties of pressure cores and conducting benchtop tests to monitor gas production during controlled dissociation of gas hydrate.   Scientists aboard the D/S Chikyu prepare to collect a research core drilled from marine sediments in the Indian Ocean. This research is part of the 2015 Indian National Gas Hydrate Program Expedition 02 (NGHP-02), which is a follow-up to the 2006 NGHP-01.  NGHP-02 identified several large deposits of potentially producible gas hydrates in the Indian Ocean. This project was led by the Government of India, with scientists from Japan and the United States, including the U.S. Geological Survey. Read more here. (Credit: Tim Collett, USGS. Public domain.) Gas Hydrates around the Globe USGS scientists contribute geological, geophysical, and geochemical expertise to U.S. and international gas hydrate research and have accumulated decades of experience as participants in and leaders of field expeditions, laboratory research, and modeling efforts. For these reasons, the USGS is often a partner in international gas hydrates research, contributing to projects on the U.S. and Canadian Pacific margins, offshore South Korea, in the Nankai Trough offshore Japan, and in the Indian Ocean. Beginning in 2006, USGS scientists partnered with the Indian Government, as well as other scientists and engineers from the United States and Japan, to evaluate the gas hydrate potential of the northern Indian Ocean. The first expedition found several sites with gas hydrates, but they did not appear likely to be producible. In 2015, the second expedition discovered several large, highly enriched accumulations of gas hydrate that are likely to be producible. As noted above, several pressure cores obtained during that expedition are being analyzed at the new USGS Hydrate Pressure Core Analysis Laboratory. Another highlight was USGS involvement in the 2010 Ulleung Basin gas hydrates project in the East Sea of Korea. The expedition not only confirmed that gas hydrates existed there, but also identified several accumulations that hold promise for production.  The USGS is currently collaborating with South Korean scientists to study properties of sediments obtained during that expedition’s coring program. A sample of gas hydrate from sediments under the Indian Ocean. Credit: USGS. (Public domain.) Start with Science Substantial resources are required to study gas hydrate prospects in deepwater and Arctic settings, and years of effort must be expended to prepare the scientific data used to plan gas hydrate expeditions and then to analyze data and samples collected from these expeditions.  Collaboration within the USGS, within the U.S. federal government, and with outside partners is therefore essential to the success of the USGS Gas Hydrates Project.   Within the USGS, the Gas Hydrates Project is jointly supported by the Energy Resources Program and the Coastal and Marine Geology Program, with scientists based at several USGS offices.  Beyond the USGS, the U.S. Department of Energy manages the federal Methane Hydrates Research and Development Program.  The USGS is a close partner with DOE, as well as with BOEM and BLM within the U.S. Department of the Interior, in many energy-related gas hydrate projects and also works with state agencies in Alaska and numerous universities.  The USGS also frequently collaborates with international partners like the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, the Geological Survey of Canada, the National Gas Hydrate Program of India, and the Korean Gas Hydrate Development Organization to share expertise to advance energy-related gas hydrates objectives.   The lessons learned through USGS involvement with these partners and through a wide range of field, laboratory, and modeling programs inform research on the U.S. domestic gas hydrate resource.  Although commercial production of gas from hydrate deposits has not yet begun, if it comes to pass, it will be rooted in the foundation of decades of research led by scientists at the USGS. Gas hydrate (white, ice-like material) under authigenic carbonate rock that is encrusted with deep-sea chemosynthetic mussels and other organisms on the seafloor of the northern Gulf of Mexico at 966 m (~3170 ft) water depth.  Although gas hydrate that forms on the seafloor is not an important component of the global gas hydrate inventory, deposits such as these demonstrate that methane and other gases cross the seafloor and enter the ocean.   Photograph was taken by the Deep Discoverer remotely operated vehicle in April 2014 and is courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Ocean Exploration and Research Program. (Public domain.) Read More USGS Gas Hydrates Project USGS Gas Hydrates Project Energy Research DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory Methane Hydrates Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Gas Hydrates #energy

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EarthWord–Discovery: EarthWords is an on-going series in which we shed some light on the complicated, often difficult-to-pronounce language of science. Think of us as your terminology tour-guides, and meet us back here every week for a new word! Scientists aboard the D/S Chikyu prepare to collect a research core drilled from marine sediments in the Indian Ocean. This research is part of the 2015 Indian National Gas Hydrate Program Expedition 02 (NGHP-02), which is a follow-up to the 2006 NGHP-01.  NGHP-02 identified several large deposits of potentially producible gas hydrates in the Indian Ocean. This project was led by the Government of India, with scientists from Japan and the United States, including the U.S. Geological Survey. Read more here. (Credit: Tim Collett, USGS. Public domain.) The EarthWord: Discovery Definition: This one sounds pretty self-explanatory, but it actually has a very specific meaning, at least in the field of energy and mineral resources. A “discovery” typically is an official announcement by a private company that shows an energy or mineral resource is present. For instance, in the oil and gas world, a discovery well is the first well that reveals the presence of a petroleum-bearing reservoir.  Information on new oil field discoveries is compiled and reported by the EIA. Etymology: Discovery comes from the Latin prefix dis, meaning "opposite of” and the Latin word cooperire, meaning "to cover up.” Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community: Discoveries are the primary way that companies identify that an energy or mineral resource actually exists. A discovery is not always economic (commercially favorable) to produce, and a discovery may require additional testing and study, but it is a necessary precursor to production (before it contributes to our energy and mineral supplies). USGS Use: USGS energy and mineral resources assessments are not discoveries. USGS does not explore for new energy or mineral resources, but does collect rock, core, and other samples to help better understand how these resources form and the geological occurrence of these resources on a regional scale. Examples include studies of the Eagle Ford shale and our collaborative research on gas hydrates. Instead, USGS assesses undiscovered resources, providing estimates of energy and mineral resources that we estimate to exist based on our understanding of the geology and our statistical models, and current industry practices, such as the types of technology used to develop and produce discovered resources. These estimates would have to be proven through discovery.  When USGS releases a new resource assessment, this takes into account available information from previous discoveries and and production made by industry. A McKelvey box, a diagram that shows the difference between resources and reserves. As one travels from resources to reserves, both geologic certainty and economic feasibility increase. (Public domain.) Read more about our energy resource assessments here and about our mineral resource assessments here. Next EarthWord: Our Energy Week is heating up with this next EarthWord... Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science. #energy
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