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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Untapped abundant fossil fuel

methane gas hydrates

Methane gas hydrates are solid blocks of ice stuffed with methane gas molecules – natural gas. They are trapped in ice crystals beneath the arctic permafrost and deep below the ocean is a volatile store of energy so vast that it could redefine world politics. They are found all over the globe in such astoundingly large amounts that early estimates stated that there were more hydrates than all other fossil fuels combined. Hydrates look like chunks of ice. You can even hold them in your hand – or light them on fire. The Russian scientists discovered them in the mid-1960s but failed to find a way to exploit them, hydrates became little more than an academic curiosity for three decades. Rising oil prices, energy-security concerns, and better science has renewed interest in hydrates, which, it turns out, can be harvested much the way natural gas is, even though hydrates are solid.

At the edges of the Alaskan permafrost,a joint effort between BP, the United States Geo­logi­cal Survey (USGS), and the Department of Energy is set to begin drilling in late 2009 or 2010 and marks the first large-scale production test of this unconventional substance. Hydrates represent a dramatic addition to natural gas resources, but natural gas, despite being cleaner than coal or oil, is still a fossil fuel that produces greenhouse gases. And raw methane, should it escape into the air, is more than 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. Safety concerns remain.

A survey of hydrate estimates published in 2007 put US reserves at around 5,700 trillion cubic feet.(About 900 times the current annual gas consumption in the US) Major hydrate research programs have cropped up in resource-constrained countries like South Korea, India, China, and – most notably – Japan. Malcolm Lall, coordinator of the Indian National Hydrate Pro­gram, says hydrate re­­sources off the Indian coast are too large to ignore. India hopes to do production tests as early as 2013. In Japan Edie Allison of the Department of Energy estimates the government has sunk about $200 million into hydrate research. In 2007, Japan partnered with Canada to conduct a six-day production test in the permafrost to gain technical knowledge that could help fuel efforts to tap Japan’s vast undersea hydrate resources. VIA

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