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Methane hydrates are the cholesterol of the oil and gas industry. They tend to accumulate in tight places and form deposits, causing pipes and valves to clog up with catastrophic results, particularly in deepwater drilling and production. Most of the research into hydrates in the petroleum industry has focused on stopping them from forming in the first place. Under certain pressures and temperatures, 400–1,200 psi and 32–40°F, methane and water combine into crystalline solids, and the process is hard to stop. To recap the elementary part, under the previously described conditions, water forms geometric lattices that create pockets or cages into which light hydrocarbons and some light gas molecules can fit. There is a lot of natural gas in a given volume of hydrate. (For purposes of this article, “hydrate” is always methane hydrate, unless indicated otherwise.) One cubic foot of hydrate can contain 150–180 cf of methane. By comparison, a cubic foot of liquefied natural gas (LNG) equals about 600 cf of gas at atmospheric pressure.

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