Natural gas news junkies may recall that last May, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Stephen Chu announced a new project to explore a new method for recovering natural gas from subsurface ice deposits known as "methane hydrates" in Alaska, home to the largest reserves of conventional natural gas North America.

Well, that Alaska hydrates test has been completed, and federal researchers are sorting through the data, reports The Associated Press (full version via

The DOE has estimated that the world's methane hydrate deposits, which essentially are natural gas molecules trapped within lattices of underground pressurized ice, contain total energy content in excess of all other fossil fuels. A federal study in 2008 estimated that beneath the northern Gulf of Mexico alone lies hydrates containing as much as 100 times the current known U.S. reserves of natural gas.

The DOE's test was conducted to learn if recovering methane from hydrate deposits could be done without destroying the reservoir by swapping out carbon-dioxide molecules for the methane instead of heating the ice or reducing reservoir pressure.

The results are cause for optimism say researchers. "From the lab data we had, it seemed like it was some strong evidence that it was not a lot of wholesale destruction of the solid hydrate," said Ray Boswell, of the DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Read more from the AP, here, and read more about the DOE's methane hydrates technology program, here.