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Environmentalists warn of hazards in extracting gas from methane hydrate

08.02.2013  | 

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.

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By BEN LEFEBVRE

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 Resources in Japan, a group with representatives from government agencies, universities and businesses.

Natural gas is being touted as a bridge fuel to replace oil and coal while strides are made in wind and solar energy, but backers of switching to renewable resources say successful development of methane hydrate could prolong dependence on carbon-based fuels.

"Hydrates, when and if they ever turn out to be commercially extractable, will be just one more excuse to fiddle while Rome burns," said Richard Charter, senior researcher at the Ocean Foundation, a conservation group.


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Sivakumar
08.12.2013

Numbers game that the corporate plays is pure greed in absolute terms and everyone in this game is responsible for the potential fall-out it is going to have in our Environment. Why not try to explore the Earth's Crust -- for sure, a single drill could bring out trillions of BTU of energy that the World is craving for, does this all make sense when the impact on Earth/Environment/mankind is never given the value it deserves than any other valuation in materialistic terms..

J B Sonar
08.09.2013

Each discovery comes with good and bad trails. The research and development in technology provides the edge over deriving the good and confining the eveil effects. We need to know the bad and learn to govern these effects controlling to zero error. That is the challange thrown to us.

Peter
08.06.2013

Unfortunately, chemicals cannot be built on renewables and bio-sources do not produce enough volume and leave a large carbon footprint. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. If you are serious about environmental impact, you are going to have to give up quite a bit on a personal level.

CM Paul
08.05.2013

Economics dictate what the world does. Renewable fuels are more expensive and will not be a contributing factor until they are cost competitive.
The world continues to listen to the critics, who seem to not have a solution for much of anything. The numbers change dependent who is the speaker, but a good guess is that the global warming issue is not one of greenhouse gas. Is it a natural phenomenon that is contributed by mankind, probably. Do we contribute significantly, probably not. Should we politicize it any more than we have, NO. Should we spend copious amounts of money to pump it underground for storage, NO.
The natural gas from the latest US exploration will upset the US market for a while, wreck of the economics of LNG terminals and have an adverse affect on methane hydrate.

Trevor Sylvester
08.05.2013

Hydrates do indeed offer an additional source of Methane, however as we are seeing now with Frac Gas and Oil, we continue our pursuit of hydrocarbons while paying lip service to renewables.

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