Environmentalists warn of hazards in extracting gas from methane hydrate
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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