FT: Methane Hydrates Could Be The Energy Of The Future
Forget the shale gas revolution. The energy of the future could lie buried deep underneath the world’s oceans and the Arctic permafrost: giant reservoirs of gas trapped in ice crystals. Estimates suggest they are enough to power the world 300 to 1,500 years at current rates of production.
Flare from methane hydrate gas produced from drilling in the Nankai Trough 30 miles off the coast of Japan
Sometimes called flammable ice, these methane hydrates also hold out the potential to alter trade flows and the geopolitics of energy. Countries such as Japan and India, which have no indigenous sources of conventional oil and gas, could suddenly find themselves important energy suppliers. Late last year, China announced it had identified a big gas hydrate reserve in the northern part of the South China Sea.
It is very early days. Test drillings have so far taken place only in Canada and Japan, but the International Energy Agency, the western world’s energy watchdog, does not rule out the possibility of another energy revolution to rival that of the shale boom in North America.
Maria van der Hoeven, the IEA’s executive director, said in an interview last year: “There may be other surprises in store. For example, the methane hydrates off the coasts of Japan and Canada … This is still at a very early stage. But shale gas was in the same position 10 year ago. So we cannot rule out that new revolutions may take place through technological developments.”
Methane hydrates are deposits of natural gas trapped with water in a crystalline structure that forms at low temperatures and moderate pressures. Although estimates of the resources vary widely, experts agree they are extremely large. According to the IEA’s most recent World Energy Outlook published last autumn, even the lower estimates give resources larger “than all other natural gas resources combined”.
Many estimates fall between 1,000tn and 5,000tn cubic metres, or between 300 and 1,500 years of production at current rates. The US Geological Survey estimates that gas hydrates worldwide are between 10 to 100 times as plentiful as US shale gas reserves. [...]