Saturday, March 16, 2013

Welcoming the Gas Age

The future of the world’s energy will likely be dominated by natural gas, as Methane hydrate joins shale gas and deep sea gas.

Writes Matthew Ridley at the Rational Optimist Blog
Move over shale gas, here comes methane hydrate. (Perhaps.) On Tuesday the Japanese government’s drilling ship Chikyu started flaring off gas from a hole drilled into a solid deposit of methane and ice, 300 metres beneath the seabed under 1000 metres of water, 30 miles off the Japanese coast.

The real significance of this gas flare probably lies decades in the future, though the Japanese are talking about commercial production by 2018. The technology for getting fuel out of hydrated methane, also known as clathrate, is in its infancy. After many attempts to turn this “fire ice” into gas by heating it proved uneconomic, the technology used this week – depressurizing the stuff – was first tested five years ago in Northern Canada. It looks much more promising.

Methane hydrate is found all around the world beneath the seabed near continental margins as well as in the Arctic under land. Any combination of low temperature and high pressure causes methane and water to crystallise together in a sort of molecular lattice. Nobody knows exactly how much there is, but probably more than all the coal and oil put together, let alone other gas.

The proof that hydrate can be extracted should finally bury the stubborn myth that the world will run out of fossil fuels in any meaningful sense in the next few centuries, let alone decades. In 1866, William Stanley Jevons persuaded Gladstone that coal would soon run out. In 1922 a United States Presidential Commission said “Already the output of gas has begun to wane. Production of oil cannot long maintain its present rate.” In 1956, M. King Hubbert of Shell forecast that American gas production would peak in 1970. In 1977 Jimmy Carter said oil production would start to decline in “six or eight years”. Woops.

The key will be cost. However, Japan currently pays more than five times as much for natural gas as America so even high-cost gas will be welcome there. The American economy, drunk on cheap shale gas, will not rush to develop hydrate. (Unlike oil, there is no world price of gas because of the expense of liquefying it for transport by ship.)

Read the rest here.

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