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  • NETL Collaborates with Partners to Produce Global Outlook on Natural Gas Hydrates

    18th of March, 2015

    March 17, 2015 - 10:53am

    Researchers at the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) were part of an international team, including the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), that contributed to a newly released report explaining the prospect of gas hydrates as a potential worldwide energy source that can contribute in the transition to the low-carbon energy systems of the future.

    Frozen Heat: A Global Outlook on Methane Hydrates details the science and history of gas hydrates, evaluates the current state of gas hydrate research, and explores the potential impacts of gas hydrates on the future global energy mix. Gas hydrates contain an immense quantity of methane gas—a fossil fuel that, when combusted, emits up to 40 percent less carbon dioxide than coal and 20 percent less than oil. According to the report, there may be regi... Read more

  • Frozen Heat Features USGS Science

    17th of March, 2015

    Released: 3/16/2015 10:00:00 AM

    The Gas Hydrates Project at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contributed to a four-year international effort by multiple partners, including the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), to formulate a just-released report entitled, “Frozen Heat: A Global Outlook on Methane Gas Hydrates.”

    The two-volume report reviews the state-of-the-art in science and technology related to gas hydrates, providing information in a form accessible to policy makers and stakeholders. The USGS Gas Hydrates Project contributed scientific results, editing, and reviews to assist formulation of the report.

    Gas hydrate is a frozen form of gas and water that occurs naturally at moderate pressure and low temperature. These conditions are characteristic of continuous permafrost and marine sediments at water depths greater than ~350 meters (~1150 ft). Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is the most common gas incorporated into global gas hydrate deposits. Gas hydrate sequesters about 1600 billion metric tons (~1800 billion US tons) of carbon or up to 25% of the global budget o... Read more

  • Release of Global Outlook on Methane Hydrates

    16th of March, 2015

    Gas Hydrates and the Evolving Global Energy Mix

    March 16, 2015

    Gas hydrates are ice-like deposits of hydrocarbons rarely glimpsed by human eyes, and are widespread in certain marine and permafrost settings around the earth. Recently, there are being investigated by some as a potential source of unconventional natural gas. These deposits are the subject of a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in collaboration with international scientific institutions from the US. Canada, Norway, India, Japan, South Korea and Germany. Frozen Heat: A Global Outlook on Methane Hydrates reviews the science and history of gas hydrates, evaluates the current state of research and explores the potential impacts of gas hydrates on the future global energy mix. By producing this report, UNEP continues to fulfill its long standing obligation and mandate of making the latest science and knowledge related to emerging environmental issues available to policy/decision makers. UNEP’s work on this report is not an encouragement or promotion of the development and use of gas hydrates as an energy source but rather a desire to inform on the various perspectives that should be considered in relation to this complex topic.

    “Gas hydrates” is the most commonly used term to describe combinations of methane and water that form naturally and in great quantities in geologic environments where there are low temperatures and relatively high pressures such as in deep water marine environments or in association with permafrost. These formations have historically been difficult to study, because of their remote locations and also because gas hydrates dissociate, or break apart, at the conditions found on the earth’s surface.

    Growing energy demands have recently increased interest in the potentially immense quantity of methane—a fossil fuel emitting up to 40 per cent less carbon dioxide when combusted than coal and about 20 per cent less than oil— that is held in gas hydrates. In addition, the role of gas hydrate dissociation as a potential feedback mechanism to ongoing climate change is attracting continued attention. Certain countries also see gas hydrate resources as a valuable energy source that could replace their dependence on foreign imports and dirtier hydrocarbons. While the existence of methane in gas hydrate form does not necessarily make it a viable energy source, the total amount of methane contained in the world’s gas hydrates is equivalent to 200 to 2,200 times the current annual global energy consumption from all sources. It also suggests that the technologies that will be used to produce gas hydrates are already being employed in the oil and gas industry. 

    The report stresses the need for nations and communities to develop a strong foundation in science that will provide a portfolio of options for assessing and mitigating potential development impacts and meeting development needs equitably and sustainably. It points out that a ‘green’ approach provides a strategic and integrated framework for considering how a variety of energy development options can be balanced and managed enabling a sustainable and resilient economy.

    Impact on the Future Energy Mix

    Many earlier assessments focused on quantifying in-place resources, with little attention paid to how much methane might ultimately be recoverable. The first efforts to assess the practical resource potential of gas hydrates are now appearing, and results from scientific production tests over the past five years have been encouraging. Numerical simulations suggest that sustained gas production can be achieved using relatively conventional hydrocarbon production techniques. Confirmation from long-term industrial production tests are still required, however signs suggest that gas hydrates represent substantial, widespread, recoverable natural gas resources.Even if no more than a small subset of the global resource is accessible through existing technologies, that portion still represents a very large quantity of gas. The accessible subset could include highly concentrated gas hydrate accumulations in locations where conventional hydrocarbon production is already planned or underway, and in areas with strong societal motivations for developing domestic energy resources. However, because gas hydrates occur in remote frontier marine and permafrost settings, important considerations remain related to the development of infrastructure to collect and distribute the gas once it is produced.

    Environmental Considerations

    The report suggests that gas hydrates would most likely be tapped as a methane resource using conventional oil and gas production techniques already employed around the world. As such, future development of gas hydrate deposits would benefit from regulations and procedures for environmental oversight that are already well established. Among the topics that require further study include 1) potential ground subsidence associated with production and 2) disposal of produced water. As with any oil and gas activity in a frontier setting, each proposed development must also consider disruption of sensitive ecosystems and the cumulative impact of development on the global climate system.The report also reviews methane hydrates occurring in nature, including their possible role influencing global climate change. A concern is that methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a radiative forcing value of about 0.5 watts per square metres — a measure of how it changes the earth’s balance between incoming and lost solar energy — second only to the 1.66 watts per square metre for carbon dioxide. According to the report, establishing the importance of methane from gas hydrates in ongoing and future climate change is an important research topic. There is considerable uncertainty about the total amount of methane involved, as well as the timing and nature of gas hydrates’ response to future change.

    Economic and Social Concerns

    The report argues that the contribution of gas hydrates to social and development goals will depend on a region’s, a nation’s, and/or a community’s state of development, its gas hydrate endowment, and other living, non-living, and human capital endowments. It also emphasizes that each geographic region should determine where gas hydrates fit in a larger development framework and whether extraction, processing and marketing of natural gas from gas hydrates provides a net advance in achieving its goals or if investments in alternative technologies and/or alternative sources of revenue.

    The fu... Read more

  • Developing nations join R&D race for gas hydrates

    17th of April, 2014

    21/01/14, Katia Moskvitch

    China, India and Latin America are exploring a potential game-changer for global energy markets. Katia Moskvitch investigates. It looks like chunks of ice — but put a flame to it and it goes ablaze. Touch it, and you’ll feel an odd sizzling sensation. This peculiar compound is methane hydrate. Not only might it become the source of the world’s next energy bonanza, but it could also let some coastal developing nations leapfrog coal and other ‘dirty’ sources of energy. Methane hydrate — also known as ‘fire ice’ — is a mixture of methane and water frozen into solid chunks. It forms when methane is produced by bacteria feeding on decomposing organic matter at the bottom of cold oceans. There, the combination of cold and extreme pressure can lock methane into a crystalline cage of frozen water molecules. Methane hydrate can be found in permafrost that was once under the ocean and under the sea floor in deep water along most continental margins. Developing nations are starting to take note. For one thing, there is a lot of this strange stuff out there — potentially lying in deep water off their coasts. The United States Geological Survey estimates that the amount of energy trapped in hydrates is more than all the world’s other fossil fuels reserves combined. On top of that, fire ice burns much more cleanly than dirtier fossil fuels and so may power development in a greener fashion. Several developing nations are beginning research into the possibility of harnessing methane hydrates — and potentially replacing their dependence on energy imports with huge stocks of relatively clean fuel. When burned, the gas hydrates release ... Read more

  • Is 'burning ice' the solution to Japan's energy crisis?

    17th of April, 2014

    By Danielle Demetriou, in Tokyo, 18 Feb 2014

    A Japanese company is planning to extract methane hydrate from the seabed with the goal of creating a new domestic energy source for resources-poor Japan.

    Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding Co. (MES) hopes to become a pioneer in the field of extracting methane hydrate, also known as “burning ice”, a compound believed to exist in abundance beneath seas around Japan.

    The company, which has previously developed offshore oilfields, has set up a new department devoted to tapping into the nation’s underwater energy extraction potential.

    It has also designed an underwater robot capable of diving to depths of nearly 23,000 ft to assist the test-mining of mineral ores, with manufacturing discussions reportedly underway with an undisclosed North European company.

    Although a timescale has not yet been made public in relation to when they will start the extraction process, Masatoshi Inui, a spokesman at MES, told the Telegraph: “It’s true that the company plans to ... Read more

  • Energy Department Seeks Methane Hydrate Proposals

    17th of April, 2014

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska April 13, 2014 (AP)By DAN JOLING Associated PressAssociated Press

    The U.S. Department of Energy is soliciting for another round of research into methane hydrates, the potentially huge energy source of "frozen gas" that could step in for shortages of other fossil fuels.

    The department is looking for research projects on the North Slope of Alaska that could explore how to economically extract the gas locked in ice far below the Earth's surface.

    DOE is also seeking researchers to document methane hydrate deposits in outer continental shelf waters of coastal states.

    The DOE anticipates federal funding of $20 million over two years that could be leveraged into research costing $80 million, according to its "funding opportunity announcement." The department could award money for both methane hydrate extraction research and for documentat... Read more

  • Methane hydrate: Dirty fuel or energy saviour?

    17th of April, 2014

    April 16, By Richard Anderson Business reporter, BBC News

    The world is addicted to hydrocarbons, and it's easy to see why - cheap, plentiful and easy to mine, they represent an abundant energy source to fuel industrial development the world over.

    The side-effects, however, are potentially devastating; burning fossil fuels emits the CO2 linked to global warming.

    And as reserves of oil, coal and gas are becoming tougher to access, governments are looking ever harder for alternatives, not just to produce energy, but to help achieve the holy grail of all sovereign states - energy independence.

    Some have discovered a potential saviour, locked away under deep ocean beds and vast swathes of per... Read more

  • The ice gas cometh

    9th of October, 2013

    Brisbane Time, September 29, 2013 Katia Moskvitch

    Crowded around a hole in the ice, the dozen or so people clad in thick jackets could be local fishermen. But the rope winch, carefully lowering a long, fat pipe into the frigid Siberian water, hints that it is not dinner they are here to catch.

    The men on the ice are researchers from the Limnological Institute in nearby Irkutsk, and the treasure they are after, hidden at the bottom of Lake Baikal, is a trove of white, ice-like chunks called methane hydrates. Put a flame next to them and they'll ignite, burning what may be the cleanest fossil fuel currently known.

    For over a decade, scientists from around the world have trekked to this remote corner of the Russian wilderness, funded by governments eager to understand how to exploit these peculiar accumulations. ''We've hosted scientists from everywhere - Japanese, Belgian, Indian and others,'' says Oleg Khlystov, a geologist at the Limnological Institute. They make the journey to Baikal because the lake's combination of storm-free waters, and - in the winter - a one-metre-thick ice platform, provide ideal conditions for studying the icy crystals below. This year, the effort finally paid off, and a race is now on to harness them. Whoever succeeds could usher in the world's next energy bonanza, and redraw the world energy map in the process.

    You wouldn't have thought that these odd little compounds held such promise. When hydrates were first discovered at the beginning of the 19th century, their weird structure made them little more than curiosities in a chemist's lab: cage-like structures of fr... Read more

  • State, DOE map plan for methane hydrate testing

    14th of August, 2013

    By TIM BRADNER Morris News Service-Alaska Alaska Journal of Commerce

    State and U.S. Department of Energy officials are working toward on a plan for a long-term production test of methane from hydrates on the North Slope. The state Department of Natural Resources announced July 31 it was setting aside 11 tracts of unleased state lands on the slope for methane hydrate research.

    Methane, the main component of natural gas, is locked in immense quantities in ice-type formations held in permafrost. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates resources of 84 trillion cubic feet across the North Slope.

    In recent years industry and government scientists have been gaini... Read more

  • Environmentalists warn of hazards in extracting gas from methane hydrate

    5th of August, 2013

    The trillions of cubic feet of methane hydrates contained in the ocean's floor are in geologically unstable areas. The fear: One wrong move and an undersea landslide could send massive amounts of a particularly potent greenhouse gas to the ocean's surface and into the atmosphere.



    Tapping methane hydrate for natural gas might have a positive impact on global energy production, but critics say the potential fuel source could have a negative impact on global warming.

    The trillions of cubic feet of methane hydrates contained in the ocean's floor are in geologically unstable areas. The fear: One wrong move and an undersea landslide in the muddy sediment containing the methane hydrates could send massive amounts of a particularly potent greenhouse gas to the ocean's surface and into the atmosphere.

    "Adding more methane to the atmosphere is a really bad idea," said Kert Davies, research director at Greenpeace, which is known for its use of direct action as well as lobbying and research to sway public opinion on issues including global warming and commercial whaling.

    Although methane remains in the atmosphere for a shorter time than carbon dioxide, "pound for pound, the comparative impact of methane on climate change is over 20 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period," according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

    Japan, the country making the most aggressive push into methane-hydrate development, will concentrate its efforts on relatively flat stretches of the seafloor off its coast. That will minimize the chances of a landslide, according to the Research Consortium for Methane Hydrate ... Read more

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