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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
USGS Reports and Studies:
Hat tip to Sig Silber