December 11, 2008
Methane Hydrate Extraction To Become Viable?

Maybe methane hydrates will become an economically affordable source of methane for natural gas.

Hydrates have been hailed as a paradigm shift in how to achieve energy independence and as a massively abundant source of cleaner-burning natural gas. Others fear it represents an environmental disaster in the making. Until recently it was thought too dangerous and too costly to extract to be of use.

That view is beginning to change. In a recently released report, the USGS for the first time announced details of large hydrate reserves in the Alaskan permafrost that should be recoverable using existing technology. The vast field could hold as much as 85 trillion cubic feet of gas – an amount far less than the dream scenarios put forward in the past, but still massive. Even more important, such movement makes the possibility of getting at the mother lode of hydrate resources – those located offshore – increasingly realistic.

“I never thought this would happen so quickly,” says Carolyn Ruppel, a USGS research geophysicist who was heavily involved in prior hydrate research expeditions, referring to the planned production test. While the number of proposed drilling programs is small and significant obstacles remain, “there has been a real change these past four years,” Dr. Ruppel says. “It’s partially from market pressures.”

If the offshore methane hydrates become reachable then I fear we really will melt the polar ice caps with all the carbon we'll release from the oceans.

To put it in perspective, that 85 trillion cubic feet of gas from the Alaska permafrost is less than the amount of natural gas consumed by the whole world in a year.

Worldwide, total natural gas consumption increases from 104 trillion cubic feet in 2005 to 158 trillion cubic feet in 2030 in the IEO2008 reference case (Figure 35). World oil prices are expected to remain high, and as a result natural gas replaces oil wherever possible.

I am expecting Peak Oil to prevent the scenarios of very high atmospheric carbon dioxide from happening. But if methane hydrates from the oceans become economically extractable I fear we'll hit much higher levels of carbon dioxide.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 December 11 11:46 PM  Energy Fossil Fuels

J. Paige Straley said at December 12, 2008 5:56 AM:

My motto: "Up and Atom!" And preferably with a Th atom.

James Bowery said at December 12, 2008 7:12 AM:

But if methane hydrates from the oceans become economically axtractable I fear we'll hit much higher levels of carbon dioxide.

Not to mention the methane releases incidental to exploitation of deposits which, although it doesn't increase ocean acidity, does have an enormous greenhouse impact.

kurt9 said at December 12, 2008 10:19 AM:

The Japanese are big time into gas hydrate extraction. They have an excellent gas distribution network (everything that is not nuclear is powered by natural gas) and have huge hydrate resources off their coasts (both Pacific and Japan Sea sides). If they are successful in developing the extraction technology, they expect to be free from natural gas imports by 2015, which would boost their economy. As you may or may not know, the Japanese import all of their natural gas and oil from foreign sources. They will also license the technology to the Koreans and Chinese, who also have large hydrate resources off their coasts.

The Japanese are pursuing deep geothermal technology as well.

kurt9 said at December 12, 2008 10:24 AM:

BTW, the Japanese have also developed more efficient methods of producing "syngas" (motor fuel) from natural gas. They built several pilot production plants in Iran in the late 90's. Iran has considerable natural gas resources, but so much much oil. Also, Japan and Iran have close commercial relationships with each other. So, if they start getting their natural gas from the hydrates, they will probably convert some of it into syngas for use as motor fuel. The Japanese pay more for their oil and natural gas because they have to pay in U.S. dollars rather than Yen (although this could change in the future).

John Moore said at December 12, 2008 7:34 PM:

We already have vast resources of hydrocarbons in North America - coal, oil sands and oil shale. Coal could quickly be used to reduce oil imports. Only environmental extremism, NIMBYism and a disproportionate fear of Anthropogenic Global Warming prevents this.

Engineer-Poet said at December 13, 2008 7:35 PM:

Funny, I thought it was the crappy EROEI of oil shale which has prevented it from being exploited.  It's not like we haven't had 35 years since the first oil-price shock to work on it.

th said at December 15, 2008 7:24 PM:

Isn't it odd, no sunspots for a year, and its cold, this hydrate stuff will all be useful but unlikely, but it could help remove carbon from the seas, you know, that acidic ocean contingency plan stuff to keep the scare alive.

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