It has only been about 10 years that fracking has been a big deal in the energy world. With it, a largely inaccessible source of fossil fuel became relatively easy pickings. And both the economic benefits and the attendant environmental problems have been grabbing headlines ever since.
For decades, people have been chasing fossil fuels in smaller, weirder, and harder-to-get places on the planet. And now, people are starting to tap into frozen deposits of natural gas on the ocean floor. China claimed a breakthrough last May as did Japan. In our country, researchers pulled muddy, methane-soaked ice from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
Until recently, the idea of exploiting this particular fuel source was considered madness, being both wildly expensive and dangerous. The methane-soaked ice was thought to be explosively unstable. But recent data has changed our views on this.
Technically called methane hydrates, these deposits are simple ice with methane molecules trapped inside the water molecules. They form in places that are gassy, wet, cold, and under pressure, like in permafrosts and at the bottom of the sea. First discovered in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there are now thought to be somewhere between 1,500 and 15,000 billion tons of carbon locked up in hydrates around the world, a truly colossal amount.
There are a variety of serious environmental concerns about tapping into this resource but even if those can be managed, there remains the most troubling problem: what the world really doesn’t need at this point is another major source of fossil fuels. Right now, the main thing holding back hydrate production isn’t technological, political, or environmental; it is economic. At the moment, we already have lots of natural gas; but that could change.
The World Eyes Yet Another Unconventional Source of Fossil Fuels
Photo, posted August 20, 2014, courtesy of Mike Mozart via Flickr.
‘Another Unconventional Fossil Fuel Source’ from Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
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