"Fire Ice" Impact on Oil Spill, Containment and Energy Future

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methane_hydrate.jpg

Stranger than fiction: methane hydrate, a potential source of energy that may dwarf the supply of earth's existing fossil fuels likely caused the April 20 Deepwater Horizon-BP explosion and then prevented the containment of the resulting spill this weekend.

Reports that methane hydrate gases shot up the well before the Deepwater Horizon explosion appeared on Friday, while the attempt Saturday by BP to put a containment dome over the leaking oil well was foiled by "slushy methane hydrates" that built up in the structure.

Unknown risks associated with our society's fossil fuel reliance are suddenly coming into sharper focus, and it's beginning to look like a well-conceived science fiction movie. Only this is real, it's happening now, and a happy ending appears out of the question.

We can't turn it off.  

An out-of-control oil spill is coming directly out of the earth, with seemingly unlimited quantities of crude fouling the nation's most productive fishery, where 80% of the country's domestically produced wild seafood supply is harvested. The oil spill is accompanied by one of the most potent known greenhouse gases, which stymies rescue efforts with acute volatility, threatening far more global climate damage than existing fossil fuels.    

Also known as "ice energy," methane hydrate is layered below the global ocean floors around the world in a frozen, yet highly flammable state. Occurring in permafrost as well, this enigmatic substance has more than three times the carbon than natural gas, coal and oil combined, so it presents incalcuable risks to the global climate if it is released into the atmosphere without sequestration.

What makes methane hydrate and recent Gulf events so remarkable is that this substance, formed by high pressure and cold temperatures and discovered only in the 1960s, has more potential energy than all the world's coal, natural gas and oil combined.
energyfromice.jpg

The US Department of Energy (DOE), China and India have all been pursuing methane hydrate deposits and research because of its potential as the ultra high-powered energy source. Russia (in conjunction with Japan) has been the first country to successfully harvest this game-changing energy source.

Oil companies and drilling operations, however, had been wary of its dangers before the Deepwater Horizon event, according to the DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory: "(The oil and gas) Industry has concerns about drilling through hydrate zones, which can destabilize supporting foundations for platforms and production wells. The disruption to the ocean floor also could result in surface slumping or faulting, which could endanger work crews and the environment."

The happy ending of our Sci-fi flick: The Gulf oil spill is stopped by drilling a relief well; the millions of gallons that did "spill" are not as damaging as thought; and methane hydrate is safely harnessed and sequestered of carbon worldwide, which phases out oil and natural gas as energy sources. Oil wars largely cease as a result, as methane hydrates are bountiful enough for most coastal nations to secure their own 100+ year energy supply.

Let's see what the focus groups think.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.

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9 Comments

I know of a group of investors interested in a variety of green energy projects, including recovery of methane from methane hydrates. Do you know of any industrial company any where in the world that is actively trying to recover methane from methane hydrates for commercial reasons?

Gary- probably most energy concerns are interested and active. There are at least two mentioned above (russia, japan), though not in the most investor friendly countries.

so why not install temp controlled electric heating elements in the dome/ coffer dam?

electric seat warmers in cars have safely operated for decades. real simple stuff, BP. not rocket science.

I like the idea of a large collection tent, anchored to the ocean bottom; a large Kevlar teepee, covering a wide area. Its flexible plumbing and top-center collection box/dome seem tricky but doable. Remember, keeping proper operating temperatures and a free flowing bowel is critical down there. Then, once the collection dome/box starts loosing buoyancy, it’s time to pick up anchors and move on. So harvesting methane hydrates could be like harvesting kelp, accept a lot more lucrative. Plus the environmental benefit seems irresistible. So what are we waiting for…Disclosure?

I am very concerned about the idea of "harvesting" methane hydrates for energy uses. Methane is a much more virulent greenhouse gas than carbon and methane hydrates are very difficult to control. I am stunned that people actually consider methane hydrates a "green" solution to anything.

You should not be surprised they consider methane a GREEN solution; everything has an Orwellian twist to it these days.
Like how John Boner pushes the Clean Grean Nuclear option. Nuclear renewable. Sure, rare minerals like uranium is "renewable", Sure, radioactive waste for our grandchildren, much better than bankrupting them, thats for sure!

BP and US government regulators should use thermal imaging http://bit.ly/9RXtrX to detect how much high greenhouse gas methane (25x CO2) is coming from gusher, for safety reasons and to help determine climate change impacts. See latest video from BP on leak--that light colored plume is methane. Now multiply that on a percentage of rigs around the world, like the one that just sunk off Venezuela http://yhoo.it/9pLch0 and it would add considerably to the greenhouse gas emissions inventory of oil and gas industry.

That would be great, but its all about covering up and damage control. BP and USG don't even want outside advice of the true flow rate. Two garden hoses full blast give me more than 8000 GPH!

current worst case is allegedly 4MM bpd, with potential ocean floor collapse (caldera)?

an engineer would, again, point out that "there are always trade offs" with any technology, fuel, or other item... so with oil use.


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About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Warren Karlenzig published on May 9, 2010 7:40 PM.

Oil Spill may be worse than Exxon Valdez was the previous entry in this blog.

Mountain Biking, Teens and Suburban Cultural Shifts is the next entry in this blog.

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