There are many, many interesting problems associated with understanding methane hydrates. From a world view, however, the most important problems are those that deal directly with extracting large quantities of methane safely and cheaply from the frozen hydrate. If this cannot be done, the promise of enormous energy from methane hydrate remains an elusive rainbow.
The scale of the problem, the magnitude of the difficulties, can best be understood by looking at the demands that commerciality places on technology. To truly realize the potential of methane from methane hydrate, we must be able to produce from deep water. We become indifferent to our ability to produce a few thousand cubic feet of methane from a borehole, when we realize that commerciality will require production of very large quantities of gas, each day, from a hypothetical deep water facility.
In a deep water site, such as the Blake Plateau, we can make some minimum estimates of the cost of the production platform and the deep water pipelines necessary to support methane production. We do not need to know the actual recovery process; we can use the minimum costs to install a floating production platform in 5000 feet of water capable of withstanding Atlantic storms, and operating continuously. Such capital costs suggest that we will require on the order of a billion cubic feet of gas per day, deliverable for 20 years, to be an attractive investment.
Our research needs to move from questions about how to melt ice cubes, and move towards the enormously difficult question as to whether it is possible to produce methane from deep water hydrates at commercial rates and quantities.