A social, environmental and economic evaluation protocol for potential gas hydrate exploitation projects

David Riley, Marije Schaafsma, Hector Marin-Moreno, Tim A. Minshull

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There is increasing global interest in the potential commercial development of methane gas hydrate as a widespread and abundant unconventional source of natural gas. Previous work has focussed on understanding the nature and distribution of the resource, and potential recovery technology, neglecting assessment of the associated social, economic and environmental consequences. This gap needs to be addressed for any commercial gas hydrate development business case to succeed. Here we develop a multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) protocol of gas hydrate development using the ELECTRE III method. Our protocol proposes criteria that evaluate the social, environmental and economic impacts of gas hydrate development proposals, which are weighted to represent the priorities of six identified stakeholder groups. We have tested the protocol on potential commercial gas hydrate development in Alaska through a series of interviews. Our results show that there is no universal preference structure, even within stakeholder groups, indicating that buy-in from all groups is a complex compromise. However, there are two fundamentally opposing groups, one composed of individuals from governmental and industry backgrounds who prioritise economic criteria, and another represented by members of the local community and environmental advocates who prioritise social and environmental criteria. The protocol concludes that gas hydrate development in Alaska is unlikely to be supported under present-day conditions. This work provides the first structured foundation for comprehensive assessment of future development proposals of gas hydrate or other natural resources.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114651
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalApplied Energy
Early online date20 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • Natural gas hydrate
  • Multi-criteria decision analysis
  • Decision-making
  • Energy planning
  • Alaska


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