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
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.
Dow Jones Newswires