The new new dash for gas

Clathrates, or methane hydrates. And Japan seems to have worked out how to drill and extract from them.

The state-owned oil and gas company JOGMEC said an exploration ship had successfully drilled 300 metres below the seabed into deposits of methane hydrate, an ice-like solid that stores gas molecules but requires great skill to extract safely.

There\’s vast amounts of this stuff around, probably twice all the deposits of other fossil fuels. Thuws, of course, there will be those who say that we must not use it to save Gaia:

The risk of methane leakage into the atmosphere could be a major snag. The US Geological Survey says the gas has ten times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide.

Hmm. However, there\’s a snag here. One of the things that gets people burbling about \”runaway climate change\” is that warming seas will lead to the natural release of all that methane. There are people burbling that the deposits under the Arctic Ocean are bubbling away right now. And it\’s very much true that the release of methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than mere CO2.

The answer therefore is to go drill this stuff up, before it is naturally released, burn it to turn it from methane into CO2 and thus reduce emissions by that factor of 10.

Simples really.

4 comments on “The new new dash for gas

  1. I think the big issue with hydrates is stability – it doesn’t take an awfully large input of energy to trigger a cascading gas release. This can be set off by, for example, a subsea landslide and is one possible explanation for the Bermuda Triangle – sudden huge catastrophic releases of methane from the seabed swallowing ships and downing planes

  2. Flatcap Army – “I think the big issue with hydrates is stability – it doesn-t take an awfully large input of energy to trigger a cascading gas release.”

    You mean it is claimed that it does not take a lot of energy. But think about it. These deposits are old. Really old. They are, after all, fossil fuels. If they could be disturbed by a clown fish farting, you think they would have survived tens of millions of years?

  3. From Speigal online:

    “Tidal Waves in Europe?: Study Sees North Sea Tsunami Risk

    By Axel Bojanowski

    The last known tsunami to hit Europe was over 8,000 years ago. But new research reveals that there have been a number of deep-sea earthquakes since then, and that a landslide along the continental slopes could pose a serious risk to the cities and towns on the North Sea coast.

    It was a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions. An earthquake shook Norway’s coast between Bergen and Trondheim about 8,150 years ago. The tremors ripped pieces of land the size of Iceland from shallow water and sent them crashing into the deep sea. Like a stone thrown into a pond, the landslide produced ripples of waves that spread at the speed of a train — powerful tsunamis racing across the North Sea. Along the beaches of Scotland the waves were up to six meters (20 feet) high. Geologists have discovered a ravaged Stone-Age site there.

    ANZEIGE

    Could something like this happen again? The environmental conditions in those days were different: 10,000 years ago the three-kilometer ice crust that had covered northern Europe during the Ice Age was beginning to melt. This released the earth’s crust, which sometimes raised itself jerkily, quaking the earth. Since then the ground has calmed down, experts have believed until now. Strong shakes along the earth’s tectonic plates in the seabed are rare, and these tend not to generate giant waves. For example on Jan. 24, 1927, there was a quake in the sea between Norway and Great Britain. On June 7, 1931, there was one between Denmark and Great Britain. And on Nov. 18, 1929, one in North West Scotland. A quake in the streets of Dover in 1580 was mentioned in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Otherwise, everything’s been calm. Or so it seemed.

    Chronicles Reveal 16th Century Earthquakes

    Geologist Roger Musson of the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh has unearthed documents that paint a different picture. Several sources from the 16th century mention an earthquake on Sept. 19, 1508. “It was a great earthquake, not only in Scotland, but also, indeed, even the whole of England, which shook the churches especially, which was interpreted as an omen of the overthrowing of religion,” wrote the Scottish Bishop of Ross, John Leslie.

    Obviously this was not one of the local tremors which often occur in Scotland and England, both then and now. This at least was the thesis put forward by Musson recently at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) conference in Vienna. He argues that the fact that churches “especially” affected points to a significant quake. Heavy quakes that occur far away tend to be more likely to cause high buildings such as church towers to move. The fact that no damage was reported would indicate that the source of the shock was deep in the seabed.

    Many years of research in libraries, church archives and old chronicles led Musson to further disturbing reports. Entries suggest that in 1089, 1508, 1607, 1686 and 1847 the seabed near Great Britain suffered severe quakes, the scientist writes in a study to be published soon.

    It seems that earthquakes not only occurred more frequently than had previously been thought, but that they were also stronger, Musson told SPIEGEL ONLINE. It is, however, difficult to prove — as earthquakes along Europe’s coasts have only been recorded with measuring instruments since the 1970s.

    Unstable Continental Slope

    Musson’s archival discoveries have focused attention on northwestern Europe’s continental slope. The underwater cliffs between shallow water and the deep sea off Norway’s coast are 3,800 meters deep. Could a quake cause the sediment lying on the slope to slide — just like 8,150 years ago?

    Norwegian scientists who have carried out years of research are certain that there is no danger of a landslide off the coast of Storegga. Most of the volcanic tephra had slid off during the giant landslide 8,150 years ago, Tore Kvalstad of Norway’s Geotechnical Institute told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

    However, there has not been the same extensive research into the coasts north and south of the Storegga slope. A group led by Petter Bryn from energy company Norsk Hydro and Anders Solheim of the International Center for Geohazards in Oslo have researched Norway’s west coast. The result: There were landslides in many places along the coast over the past million years.

    Most were significantly smaller than the one at Storegga. In 1999 researchers discovered traces of a violent landslide on Norway’s north coast that is being surveyed now for the first time. A group led by Daniel Winkelmann and Wilfried Jokat of the Alfred Wagner Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven reported in Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems that the sand masses are of a similar strength to those in the Storegga landslide. The so-called Yermak Slide (also Hinlopen Slide) is assumed to have fallen into the deep sea around 30,000 years ago and caused tsunamis, according to the researchers.

    Dangerous Gaps in Knowledge

    Whether this could occur again depends upon the mix of sediment on the continental slope. There has been hardly any research into this deposit — a gap in knowledge with possibly fatal consequences. The sediment could hide extensive layers of clay, which could act as a slick slope for a landslide. Steep layers of sand would be another cause for alarm, because even a light ground motion could cause them to move.

    Possibly the greatest elements of uncertainty are the so-called methanhydrates: gas-containing ice caps which keep the sand attached to the slopes like a kind of weak sticker. In the scientific journal Eos, Angus Best of the University of Southampton warns that if the water level or the temperature were to change, this “cement” could dissolve. An earthquake could also cause the volatile architecture to slide, says AWI researcher Wolfram Geissler.

    A computer model designed by Norwegian scientists shows the possible consequences of a mega-landslide. They have forecast the progression of a disaster: Minutes after the landslide 14-meter-high waves would hit Norway’s coast, with fatal results, as many cities lie at sea level or in bays with sharply canted floors, where the waves would rise even higher. After three hours 20-meter-high breakers would crash onto the Shetland Islands. Two hours later the Faeroe Islands would be covered in waves of up to 14 meters high. After six hours, the tsunamis would still be six meters high, tearing along Scotland’s beaches toward the coastal cities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. As they head southwards the waves would become smaller, the oscillating North Sea acting as a break.

    The model predicts that Germany’s North Sea coast would only see light flooding — but even elaborate computer models can be wrong.”

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