The World Is Far From Running Out of Hydrocarbon Fuels

September 9th, 2012
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect: The US Department of Energy is making big noise on a  little known energy resource - methane hydrate - whose potential as an energy source is larger than all other known hydrocarbon reserves.  Taxpayer funding to develop this resource is a whopping $5.6 million (not billions).  One announcement on 02 May 2012 stated in part:

.....  the completion of a successful, unprecedented test of technology in the North Slope of Alaska that was able to safely extract a steady flow of natural gas from methane hydrates – a vast, entirely untapped resource that holds enormous potential for U.S. economic and energy security.  Building upon this initial, small-scale test, the Department is launching a new research effort to conduct a long-term production test in the Arctic as well as research to test additional technologies that could be used to locate, characterize and safely extract methane hydrates on a larger scale in the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Following is a quick "get up to speed primer" about methane hydrate.

Follow up:

What are methane hydrates?

Methane hydrates are 3D ice-lattice structures with natural gas locked inside, and are found both onshore and offshore – including under the Arctic permafrost and in ocean sediments along nearly every continental shelf in the world.  The substance looks remarkably like white ice, but it does not behave like ice.  When methane hydrate is “melted,” or exposed to pressure and temperature conditions outside those where it is stable, the solid crystalline lattice turns to liquid water, and the enclosed methane molecules are released as gas.

Is the USA government involved in research?

The Energy Department announced today [31 August 2012] an investment of nearly $5.6 million in 14 research projects designed to help us better understand the impacts of methane  hydrates  on our future energy supply. The projects will focus on field programs for deepwater hydrate characterization, the response of methane hydrate systems to changing climates, and advances in the understanding of gas-hydrate-bearing sediments. This new investment bolsters the decade-old methane hydrate research and development program led by the Energy Department in collaboration with other federal agencies, universities, industry, and international partners.

How much exists in the USA?

In 1995, the USGS conducted the first systematic assessment of the in-place natural gas-hydrate resources of the United States (Collett, 1995). That study suggested that the amount of gas in the Nation’s hydrate accumulations greatly exceeds the volume of known conventional domestic gas resources. The worldwide amounts of carbon bound in gas hydrates is conservatively estimated to total twice the amount of carbon to be found in all known fossil fuels on Earth.

Are there environmental issues?

Methane, a "greenhouse" gas, is 10 times more effective than carbon dioxide in causing climate warming. Methane bound in hydrates amounts to approximately 3,000 times the volume of methane in the atmosphere. There is insufficient information to judge what geological processes might most affect the stability of hydrates in sediments and the possible release of methane into the atmosphere. Methane released as a result of landslides caused by a sea-level fall would warm the Earth, as would methane released from gas hydrates in Arctic sediments as they become warmed during a sea-level rise. This global warming might counteract cooling trends and thereby stabilize climatic fluctuation, or it could exacerbate climatic warming and thereby destabilize the climate.

Click here to read more GEI News about Methane Hydrates

USGS Reports and Studies:

Scientific Results of the Gulf of Mexico Gas Hydrate Joint Industry Project Leg II

Article Thumbnail Image The scientific results of the 2009 Gulf of Mexico Joint Industry Program Leg II Logging-While-Drilling (LWD) expedition have been published as a special issue of the Journal of Marine and Petroleum Geology (Volume 34, Issue 1).
Saturday, June 30, 2012  Type: Outside Publication

Article Thumbnail Image On May 2, 2012 the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the completion of the field testing phase of the Ignik Sikumi gas hydrate production test well project on the North Slope of Alaska. This test was an important step forward in gas hydrate research...
Thursday, May 24, 2012  Type: Field Report

Article Thumbnail Image USGS Scientific Investigations Report: Gas Hydrate Prospecting Using Well Cuttings and Mud-Gas Geochemistry from 35 Wells, North Slope, Alaska. Part of a USGS and Bureau of Land Management gas hydrate research collaboration.
Sunday, February 12, 2012  Type: Publication

Article Thumbnail Image Estimating the amount of conductive and nonconductive constituents in the pore space of sediments by using electrical resistivity logs generally loses accuracy where clays are present in the reservoir. Many different methods and clay models have been proposed to account for the conductivity of...
Friday, January 28, 2011  Type: Publication

Article Thumbnail Image USGS Contribution to AAPG Memoir on Gas Hydrates: In the December of 2009, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) published a comprehensive treatise on the geology of gas hydrates which is entitled Natural Gas Hydrates – Energy Resource Potential and Associated Hazards.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009  Type: Outside Publication

Article Thumbnail Image Gulf of Mexico Gas Hydrate Joint Industry Project Leg II (Press Release & Field Report): On May 6, 2009 a government and industry consortium, lead by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) and a group of U.S. and internation...
Friday, May 29, 2009  Type: Field Report

Article Thumbnail Image In 2008, USGS scientists completed the first assessment of the undiscovered, technically recoverable gas-hydrate resources beneath the North Slope of Alaska. This assessment indicates the existence of technically recoverable gas-hydrate resources—that is, resources that can be discovered, developed,...
Wednesday, November 12, 2008  Type: Press Release & Publication

Article Thumbnail Image In 2008 an international partnership led by the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (Government of India) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released the results of the most complex and comprehensive gas hydrate field venture yet conducted.
Friday, February 08, 2008  Type: Field Report

Article Thumbnail Image Geological Survey of Canada GSC Bulletin 585: Scientific Results from the Mallik 2002 Gas Hydrate Production Research Well Program, Mackenzie Delta, Northwest Territories, CanadaThis landmark publication continues a remarkable legacy of gas hydrate research at this remote Arctic location, quantifyin...
Thursday, August 25, 2005  Type: Outside Publication

Article Thumbnail Image The Mallik Research Consortium drilled three test wells in Canada’s Mackenzie Delta in 2002, and the results of this cooperative effort, demonstrating the producibility of this energy resource, were published in 2005.
Sunday, May 05, 2002  Type: Field Report

Hat tip to Sig Silber

Steven Hansen

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  1. Sigmund Silber says :

    Methane is generally recognized as having GWP of 25 compared to Carbon Dioxide and the next IPCC Reports may show it as being more than 25. It is a difficult number to pin down because the decay rate is not like a radionucleide but depends on the experience of the methane molecule in the atmosphere.

    For conventional natural gas wells, the loss rates need to be kept to 1% to 1.5% for NG to replace gasoline and diesel fuel without worsening cliamte change and to 3% for natural gas to replace coal and not worsen global warming.

    Can these levels of loss rates (at the site and during transportation) be achieved in the Arctic? That remains to be seen.

  2. kalendjay Email says :

    Expect the US and Japan to be leaders in methyl hydrate extraction, as they are leaders in the basic research. The Sea of Japan can supply Japan 50 years of gas at current consumption rates, with South Korea sharing similar reserves proportional to population. Alaska's best prospects are probably off the north slope as well as the tundra.

    Also exciting is the prospect that little more than carbon dioxide reinjections can dislodge the gas. The CO2 can be refrozen and sequestered in deep water indefinitely as geopressurized ice. Reinjection is underway in many major conventional gas fields, but does little to sustain production, and is more a way to earn greenhouse gas credits. Since methyl hydrate fields are amorphous mixtures of ice and rock, which are under constant and invariable chill and pressure, there is little danger that extraction will cause sudden methane upwelling.

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