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Archive for the category “methane hydrates”

Arctic Methane Emergency

Published March 22, 2015

Global warming is causing CO2 levels to hit 400 ppm, a level humans have never seen. Droughts are spreading and Miami is reporting that the ocean is backing up in the drains.

With all of the global warming a new threat has emerged, the release of methane gas, trapped in methane hydrates on ocean floors. It’s release is often referred to as the ‘methane bomb’.

The last time a ‘methane bomb’ went off on earth, 80% of life on earth vanished (about 250 million years ago).

There are only two ways to curtail such an event that I know of:

1. Plant trees, a lot of trees, especially in the melting permafrost.

2. A not so nice scenario: nuke a volcano which would spread dust in the upper atmosphere, thereby cooling off the earth enough to halt the release of methane hydrates. it is inherently dangerous to do so though. It could cause an ice age, the alternative is, of course, to fry.

The Chikyu or the Attempted Prolongation of the Fossil Fuel Era

Pictured is the Japanese ship Chikyu, originally an earthquake research vessel, now in service for discovering methane hydrates reserves beneath the ocean floor. Methane hydrates are estimated to be twice as abundant as the rest of fossil fuel reserves combined, we have reported about methane hydrates before here. It is no surprise that it is Japan that has the greatest interest in exploring this potential carbon fuel resource, as nothing has changed for Japan since the days of Pearl Harbor, when Roosevelt successfully provoked Japan into attacking Pearl Harbor (see “read more” section), which for Japan had everything to do with oil and for Roosevelt to get his desired war with Germany finally kicked off, via the Japanese backdoor. But we digress. Japan started to investigate the methane-hydrates option since 1995. Earlier this year the laboratory-test-sample-phase was concluded and the production test phase began. But it is not just Japan that is interested; China, India, Korea, Taiwan, Norway, Canada and the United States have plans as well. The author signalizes that if the methane-hydrates revolution would succeed, it could prolongue the fossil fuel era with potentially catastrophic consequences for climate change.


Rebuttal of article in the Atlantic:
[] – Are Methane Hydrates Really Going to Change Geopolitics?

Sceptical comments:

Read more…

Klaus Wallman SUGARcoats Methane Hydrates

Prof. Dr. Klaus Wallmann (IFM-GEOMAR Research Center in Kiel) presented the SUGAR project. Launched in the summer 2008, the SUGAR project (Submarine Gas Hydrate Reservoirs) aims to produce natural gas from marine methane hydrates and to sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) from power plants and other industrial sources as CO2-hydrate in marine sediments. This large-scale national project is funded by two federal ministries and German industries. The total funding is 13 Mio. € over an initial funding period of three years. Klaus Wallman highlighted the existence of vast amounts of natural gas (methane) bound in marine gas hydrates (~3000 Gt of carbon) as large as the total inventory of carbon in all known coal, oil, and gas deposits. In addition, Prof. Wallman stressed the win-win nature of such a project as it combines methane extraction and CO2 injection in the seabed reducing the CO2 in the atmosphere. Additionally, recent studies showed that the methane hydrates are less and less stable due to increase of sea temperature liberating more and more methane. He concluded, however, that this technology is an early stage of development and would benefit from a European wide research effort as it is been the case in Germany. A mapping study on the location and potential of methane hydrates in the seas of Europe could be a good start.

[] – Energy from the ocean -Emerging technologies

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Methane Hydrates Risks

Far from dismissing this potential new energy source off hand, all risks need to be assessed first, before grand scale exploitation should be considered. Here a few pointers to articles highlighting the risks.

[] – Methane hydrates: Energy’s most dangerous game (October 2008)
Meet methane hydrates, the world’s most promising and perilous energy resource… Methane is the principal component of natural gas, and massive amounts of it are trapped in reservoirs beneath the sea floor and under a layer of the ice-like substance. The scale of the resource is spectacular. By some estimates, methane hydrates contain more energy content than all other known fossil fuels combined… Methane hydrates are frozen water molecules that trap methane gas molecules in a crystalline, lattice-like structure known as a hydrate. Unlike normal ice, hydrate ice literally burns — light a match and it goes up in flames. As temperatures rise or pressure rates fall, the hydrate disintegrates and the water releases the gas… A substantial amount of evidence suggests that weakening the lattice-like structure of gas hydrates has triggered underwater landslides on the continental margin. In other words, the extraction process, if done improperly, could cause sudden disruptions on the ocean floor, reducing ocean pressure rates and releasing methane gas from hydrates. A mass release of methane into the sea and atmosphere could have catastrophic consequences on the pace of climate change. More than 50 million years ago, undersea landslides resulted in the release of methane gas from methane hydrate, which contributed to global warming that lasted tens of thousands of years.

[] – How Frozen Fuel Works
The potential rewards of releasing methane from gas hydrate fields must be balanced with the risks. And the risks are significant. Let’s start first with challenges facing mining companies and their workers. Most methane hydrate deposits are located in seafloor sediments. That means drilling rigs must be able to reach down through more than 1,600 feet (500 meters) of water and then, because hydrates are generally located far underground, another several thousand feet before they can begin extraction. Hydrates also tend to form along the lower margins of continental slopes, where the seabed falls away from the relatively shallow shelf toward the abyss. The roughly sloping seafloor makes it difficult to run pipeline.

[] – Methane hydrate energy solution?
Raw methane released into the atmosphere produces a greenhouse effect 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. So every effort must be made to ensure it doesn’t leak during extraction. MH21 says the decreasing-pressure method lessens the risk because the lower pressure in the wells allows gas released by methane hydrate under the seabed to flow up naturally, giving it little chance to escape. It has also been noted, however, that when methane hydrate decomposes, it can trigger landslides as the decomposing layer disappears, warping the seafloor. The impact of submarine landslides is still being studied, but they are known to occur on slopes. MH21 plans to drill only in flat layers until further studies shed more light on the risks.

Read more…

Arctic Methane Timebomb

Youtube text: Katey Walter Anthony, a Water and Environmental Resource Center Researcher at the Univeristy of Alaska Fairbanks, fires off a plume of methane from a local Fairbanks pond in November 2009. The methane lies trapped within the ice and seeps from thermokarst lake sediments below (uploaded December 17, 2009).

This topic is not necessarily an argument against methane hydrates exploitation, but it surely creates awareness of the presence of this potential new resource. The fear is that global warming and subsequent melting of arctic ice caps could release enormous amounts of methane into the atmosphere, with the potential to accelerate global warming.


Read more…

EROEI of Methane Hydrates

In the wake of the recent posts about methane hydrates, the overarching question is, as with any new energy source, what is the energy return on energy invested (EROEI) for these hydrates? In fact early indications are quite promissing: values of more than 30 initially, gradually deteriorating to 7 after 30 years of well exploitation:


[ – pdf]
[mirror – revised nov 2012]

More on Methane Hydrates

Jesse Jenkins of the MIT picks up the story about a japanese firm which reported to have produced non-commercial quantities of methane from offshore methane hydrates. Methane hydrates are deposits of natural gas trapped within the crystaline structure of frozen water, leading some to refer to hydrates as “fire ice.” Estimates of the scale of hydrate resources are enormous, ranging from 10,000 trillion cubic feet (TCF) to more than 100,000 TCF. Methane hydrates may contain anywhere from 0.5-15 times more natural gas than all global shale gas deposits combined, although not all of this can be recovered economically, but the consequences for the energy market, not to mention the environment, would be staggering… dwarfing the so-called ‘shale gas revolution’. The total amount of methane hydrate in the waters surrounding Japan are estimated at more than 247 TCF, that is enough gas to supply nearly a century’s worth of Japan’s needs.

The good news is that relatively clean gas from methane hydrates could displace dirty coal, like in China and India, a process which is already taking place in the US. The bad news is that potentially there would be lesser restrictions on burning of fossil fuels with negative effects on global warming. Another big risk is leakage of methane into the atmosphere, an almost unavoidable side-effect of the production process. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.

Nevertheless, since the Fukushima desaster Japan has increased investment in this field. We will be hearing a lot more from this theme soon.


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