China Searches for More Gas Hydrates in South China Sea

Gas hydrates (the white material) in marine sediments. Courtesy of Ocean Drilling Program (USGS)
Gas hydrates (the white material) in marine sediments. Courtesy of Ocean Drilling Program (USGS)

Published Feb 21, 2018 6:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

Gas hydrates, also known as flammable ice, are considered a potentially important source of future energy, and China has initiated another offshore survey for the resource.

Fugro has been awarded a $40 million contract by Guangzhou Marine Geological Survey (GMGS) for a gas hydrate investigation on the Northern Continental Slope of the South China Sea. The project is expected to commence in the second quarter of 2018.

This is the fifth gas hydrate field research program that Fugro will undertake for GMGS; the two companies have worked together since 2007. The drilling vessel, Fugro Voyager, will be used to conduct a site characterization program that GMGS will use to plan China’s second gas hydrate marine production test scheduled for 2019.

China first successfully extracted gas hydrate from the South China Sea in 2017. Engineers extracted gas trapped in ice crystals and converted it to natural gas in a single, continuous operation on a floating production platform.

Methane hydrate is a cage-like lattice of ice inside of which are trapped molecules of methane,  the chief constituent of natural gas. When brought to the earth's surface, one cubic meter of gas hydrate releases 164 cubic meters of natural gas. 

Hydrate deposits may be several hundred meters thick, they have been found around the world, including inside Arctic permafrost and beneath Antarctic ice. The South China Sea is thought to contain some of the most promising deposits, and the Chinese government has promised to “actively develop” natural gas hydrate over the 2016-2020 five-year plan period.

Estimates of worldwide reserves range from 280 trillion cubic meters (10,000 trillion cubic feet) up to 2,800 trillion cubic meters (100,000 trillion cubic feet), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The figures indicate that methane hydrate reserves could meet global gas demands for 80 to 800 years at current consumption rates. 

Along with China, Japan, the U.S. and India also have research underway on the fuel.

Fugro has been involved in many of the world’s major gas hydrate field programs to date, most focused on finding and quantifying recoverable reserves of gas from hydrate formations. This process involves a “petroleum systems” approach to prospecting the best area to perform drilling, coring, pressure coring and in situ testing of hydrate formations based on exploration seismic data.