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Methane Hydrates: Energy Prospect or Natural Hazard?

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Publication Date: February 2000

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RS20050

Topic: Energy (Energy research and technology)


Methane hydrate is a methane-bearing, ice-like material that occurs in marine sediments and in permafrost regions. The amount of methane contained in hydrate deposits is enormous, although it is likely that much of the hydrate occurs in low concentrations and would have no commercial potential. Hydrate deposits are estimated to contain a much greater amount of natural gas than conventional accumulations, however, there is today no practical and environmentally safe way to produce the gas. Destabilization of the hydrates with uncontrolled release of large volumes of methane is a significant hazard.

Legislation was introduced into the 105th Congress, which would have authorized an interagency research and development program to develop methane hydrate resources. The bill passed the Senate and hearings were held in the House before Congress adjourned. The measure was reintroduced in the 106th Congress as S. 330, which was reported from the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on March 22, 1999 (S.Rept. 106-33). The Senate passed S. 330 on April 19, 1999. Subsequently, H.R. 1753 was introduced into the House and jointly referred to the Committees on Science and Resources. The bill was reported from both Committees (H.Rept. 106-377, Parts I and II) and passed the House on October 26, 1999. H.R. 1753 passed the Senate as amended on November 19, 1999.