Is Methane Hydrate the Energy Source of the Future?

NAGAKUTE, JAPAN: Attendant of Japan's Gas Pavilion introduces an experiment of the 'burning ice,' methane hydrate, as a potential future source of energy during a press preview for the 2005 World Exposition in Nagakute, Aichi prefecture, 19 March 2005. The 185-day world expo will officially open March 25. AFP PHOTO/Kazuhiro NOGI
National Journal
Clare Foran
Add to Briefcase
Clare Foran
Dec. 24, 2013, midnight

Shale has the spot­light for now. But there’s an­oth­er, less­er-known sub­stance with the po­ten­tial to yield even great­er quant­it­ies of nat­ur­al gas: meth­ane hy­drate.

Hy­drates con­sist of a lat­tice-like struc­ture of frozen wa­ter mo­lecules and meth­ane. On the sur­face, they look like an or­din­ary block of ice. But when you hold a match to them, they burn — a visu­al cue sig­nal­ing meth­ane re­lease.

“A lot of geoscient­ists are fas­cin­ated by hy­drates be­cause of how odd it is that you can take meth­ane gas and add wa­ter and have it res­ult in something with such a con­cen­trated store of en­ergy,” said Peter Flem­ings, a mem­ber of the En­ergy De­part­ment’s meth­ane hy­drate ad­vis­ory com­mit­tee and pro­fess­or at the de­part­ment of geo­lo­gic­al sci­ences at the Uni­versity of Texas (Aus­tin).

Hy­drates form when meth­ane and wa­ter com­bine un­der cold tem­per­at­ures in a re­l­at­ively high-pres­sure en­vir­on­ment and are com­monly found in arc­tic re­gions or in shal­low sed­i­ments be­low re­l­at­ively deep wa­ter along the out­er con­tin­ent­al shelf.

The En­ergy In­form­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion es­tim­ates that hy­drates con­tain more car­bon than every fossil fuel avail­able on Earth com­bined. EIA also re­ports that these ice-like struc­tures could hold any­where from 10,000 tril­lion to more than 100,000 tril­lion cu­bic feet of nat­ur­al gas. By way of com­par­is­on, the ad­min­is­tra­tion, which acts as the in­de­pend­ent stat­ist­ic­al arm of the En­ergy De­part­ment, said in 2013 that there are just over 7,000 tril­lion cu­bic feet of tech­nic­ally re­cov­er­able shale gas de­pos­its throughout the world.

All this po­ten­tial isn’t lost on the ad­min­is­tra­tion. DOE has been con­duct­ing re­search in­to meth­ane hy­drates on and off since the 1980s and re­cently re-upped its com­mit­ment to un­der­stand­ing the sub­stance with an an­nounce­ment last month that it plans to pour close to $5 mil­lion in­to fund­ing for re­search pro­jects ex­plor­ing the po­ten­tial en­ergy source and how it could be ex­trac­ted.

“We know that meth­ane hy­drates hold vast po­ten­tial as a fu­ture en­ergy re­source,” said Ray Boswell, the pro­gram man­ager on meth­ane hy­drates for the de­part­ment’s Na­tion­al En­ergy Tech­no­logy Lab, said. “We’ve got­ten past the ques­tion of does this sub­stance really ex­ist and is it avail­able, and now we’re really work­ing to fig­ure out how much of it is in a con­di­tion to where we can real­ist­ic­ally con­sider it a part of our fu­ture en­ergy re­serve, and we’re work­ing to­wards that.”

When asked if meth­ane hy­drates stand to play a role in the pres­id­ent’s all-of-the-above en­ergy strategy, Boswell replied: “Yes, ab­so­lutely.”

There are risks in­her­ent in the ex­trac­tion of nat­ur­al gas from hy­drates, however.

Since hy­drates are typ­ic­ally found in shal­low­er re­gions than shale gas de­pos­its, one con­cern is that drilling in­to the sub­stance could trig­ger ground sur­face col­lapse.

“If you drill a hole five feet down and re­move a large amount of ma­ter­i­al, there are more odds of the ground cav­ing in than you would have if you drill 10,000 feet down,” Flem­ings said.

An­oth­er fre­quently cited con­cern is that meth­ane, a power­ful green­house gas, could leak out dur­ing ex­trac­tion.

Boswell in­sists, however, that the po­ten­tial for un­in­ten­ded meth­ane gas re­lease is no high­er with meth­ane hy­drates than with shale rock form­a­tions.

“That’s a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion,” he com­men­ted. “But the risks as­so­ci­ated with hy­drates are very sim­il­ar to the risks that are dealt with and man­aged every day by the oil and gas in­dustry in the pro­cess of drilling for nat­ur­al gas in shale.”

Don’t ex­pect nat­ur­al gas pro­duc­tion from hy­drates to get off the ground in the U.S. any­time soon, however. As long as shale gas re­mains so read­ily avail­able, there is no real in­cent­ive to com­mer­cial­ize the tech­no­logy.

“At the end of the day, pro­du­cing nat­ur­al gas from hy­drates is still much more ex­pens­ive than shale gas or oth­er con­ven­tion­al meth­ods,” Flem­ings said.

But the costs in­curred to ex­tract shale gas have dropped dra­mat­ic­ally over the past dec­ade, and so, too, could the price of tech­no­logy needed to grab gas from meth­ane hy­drates. If that day comes, a tid­al wave of fossil fuels will flood the Amer­ic­an en­ergy land­scape.

What We're Following See More »
CITES CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Lieberman Withdraws from Consideration for FBI Job
4 days ago
THE LATEST
MINIMUM 2 PERCENT GDP
Trump Tells NATO Countries To Pay Up
4 days ago
BREAKING
MANAFORT AND FLYNN
Russians Discussed Influencing Trump Through Aides
4 days ago
THE DETAILS

"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Source:
BUT WHITE HOUSE MAY USE AGAINST HIM ANYWAY
Ethics Cops Clear Mueller to Work on Trump Case
6 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."

Source:
BUSINESSES CAN’T PLEAD FIFTH
Senate Intel to Subpoena Two of Flynn’s Businesses
6 days ago
THE LATEST

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login