The estimated amount of gas in the hydrate accumulations of the world greatly exceeds the volume of known conventional gas reserves. However, the role that gas hydrate will play in contributing to the world's energy requirements will depend ultimately on the availability of sufficient gas hydrate resources and the "cost" to extract them. Yet considerable uncertainty and disagreement prevails concerning the world's gas hydrate resources. Disagreements over fundamental issues such as volume of gas stored within delineated gas hydrate accumulations and the concentration of gas hydrate within hydrate-bearing reservoirs have demonstrated that we know very little about gas hydrate.
Despite the fact that relatively little is known about the ultimate resource potential of natural gas hydrate, it is certain that gas hydrate is a vast storehouse of natural gas and significant technical challenges need to be met before this enormous resource can be considered an economically producible reserve. It is proposed in this paper that the evolution of gas hydrate as a viable source of natural gas, like any other unconventional energy resource (e.g., deep gas, shale gas, tight gas sands, and coalbed methane), will follow a predictable path from research and discovery to implementation (Figure 1); however, insurmountable barriers may exist along this pathway. Today, most of the gas hydrate research community is focused on three fundamental issues: WHERE does gas hydrate occur, HOW does gas hydrate occur in nature, and WHY does gas hydrate occur in a particular setting. However, relatively little has been done to integrate these distinct research topics or evaluate how collectively they affect the ultimate resource potential of gas hydrate. Only after understanding the fundamental aspects of WHERE-HOW-WHY gas hydrate occur in nature will we be able to make accurate estimates of how much gas is trapped within the gas hydrate accumulations of the world. Even with the confirmation that gas
hydrate may exist in considerable volumes, significant technical, economic, and political issues need to be resolved before gas hydrate can be considered a viable energy resource.
In this paper, I have attempted to review the status of gas hydrate as a future energy resource. The technical and non-technical factors controlling the ultimate resource potential of gas hydrate have been identified and assessed. The fundamental questions of WHERE does gas hydrate occur, HOW does gas hydrate occur in nature, and WHY does gas hydrate occur in a particular setting have been individually reviewed and discussed. In addition, published gas hydrate volume assessments have been summarized and the production technology needed to extract the world's gas hydrate resources are assessed. The paper concludes with a discussion of the economic and political motivations that may eventually lead to gas hydrate production.
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