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Page added on June 24, 2015

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The Future of Ice Gas

The Future of Ice Gas thumbnail

Methane hydrate is a compound in which a large amount of methane is trapped within a crystal structure made up of water, forming a solid which is similar to ice. The energy content of methane occurring in hydrate form is extremely powerful and could exceed the combined energy content of all other known fossil fuels, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, with one cubic foot of methane hydrate containing approximately 160 cubic feet of natural gas.

Japan has been one of the major drivers in the development of ice gas over the last few years. Back in March 2013 Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. (JOGMEC) reported that it had successfully extracted natural gas from methane hydrate deposits under the seabed offshore Japan, using a depressurization method to flow gas from methane hydrate layers. The successful extraction of gas from methane hydrate was an exciting development for Japan – considering around 40 trillion cubic feet of methane is held in hydrate deposits off the island of Honshu, according to JOGMEC – and promised a new energy source for the world.

Following JOGMEC’s significant work in the field of ice gas, JAPEX established a joint venture company in October 2014, along with ten other firms, in order to assist in a medium to long-term offshore production test of methane hydrate conducted by the Japanese government. The JV firm, Japan Methane Hydrate Operating Co., which received an initial capital contribution of $2.8 million, aims to provide contract services on field operations in the offshore production test of pore-filling type methane hydrate and share its findings to contribute towards the commercialization of the energy source.

Should Japan ever commercialize ice gas, the proposed construction of a gas pipeline between the country and Russia’s Sakhalin Island – announced by Tokyo Gas consultant Shigeru Muraki at the third annual Russian-Japanese Forum on Cooperation in Business, Technology and Culture in May 2015 – could in the very distant future result in methane hydrate being exported to Europe. Muraki said that the 932-mile pipeline would cost $3.5 billion to construct.

New Zealand & the Arctic

In May of last year, New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) reported that a joint New Zealand-German research team had discovered indications of large areas of methane hydrate below the seafloor in the ocean near New Zealand’s east coast. The findings were made by a 16-person team, which used 3D and 2D seismic and echosounder technology to map 99 gas flares in a 19 square mile area, which were venting from the seabed in columns up to 800 feet high. This is believed to be the densest concentration of seafloor gas vents known in New Zealand.

Using the 3D seismic data NIWA showed that landslides on New Zealand’s east coast, which can be up to 9 miles long and 320 feet thick, allowed the gas build-up in the sediment to be released into the ocean. In a recently-submitted scientific paper the team claimed that these landslides could actually be the seafloor equivalent of glaciers, but with frozen methane instead of ice. The project’s ongoing investigations will include drilling into the landslides in 2016, according to NIWA. New Zealand’s ice gas reserves are certainly formidable, with geoscience research firm GNS Science stating that even if only a fraction of New Zealand’s gas hydrates are economically recoverable, they could provide the main source of natural gas for the country for several decades.

In the Arctic Ocean, a University of New Hampshire geologist recently identified a new source of methane for gas hydrates: abiotic methane, in other words, methane that is not generated by decomposing carbon. Research led by the UNH professor indicated that gas hydrates throughout the Arctic may be supplied by a significant portion of abiotic gas. The study focused on the Arctic mid-ocean ridge system, where scientists have claimed that abiotic methane can be generated through serpentization, which involves the reaction of seawater with hot mantle-derived rocks.

The researchers showed that these abiotic methane hydrates were remarkably stable, spanning back approximately two million years, and that they exist in very deep water, which makes the methane less vulnerable to potential release, according to the study. The release of methane from gas hydrates into the atmosphere is a potential hazard for companies looking to commercialize the ice gas resource.

Elsewhere in the Arctic, JOGMEC and the National Energy Technology Laboratory – an affiliate of the U.S. DOE – recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding concerning Japan-US collaboration on methane hydrate development in Alaska. As part of the MoU JOGMEC and NETL will conduct joint research into ice gas in Alaska until around 2019, which could lead to the development of commercialization technology.

It’s unclear exactly when methane hydrates will enter a state of commercialization: Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi believes it could be as early as 2023, although the U.S. Geological Survey noted that the National Petroleum Council thinks that we will not see significant ice gas production until after 2025. One thing is clear though – if methane hydrates can be commercialized, it’ll be great news for ice gas-rich nations all over the world.


30 Comments on "The Future of Ice Gas"

  1. rockman on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 7:53 am 

    Japan, from their own research reports, produced a very small amount of methane. Nothing remotely close to being of commercial value. And here’s the critical aspect of the hydrates that all these cheerleaders avoid like poison: these are not NG deposits. They are ice deposits that contain a relatively small amount of methane (see numbers below). The methane is part of the crystal structure so to liberate it the crystal has to essentially be melted. As describe this is done by lower the pressure to destabilize the crystals. IOW millions of tons of ICE will have to be destabilized to liberate a meaningful amount of methane. I repeat: these are not NG reservoirs…they are solid ICE reservoirs with a small amount of methane trapped in the ice crystals.

    Chew on that image for a while and see how excited you get about the future potential of trillions of cubic feet of NG being produced form these methane clathrate hydrates.

    The nominal methane clathrate hydrate composition is (CH4)4(H2O)23, or 1 mole of methane for every 5.75 moles of water, corresponding to 13.4% methane by mass, although the actual composition is dependent on how many methane molecules fit into the various cage structures of the water lattice. The observed density is around 0.9 g/cm3, which means that methane hydrate will float to the surface of the sea or of a lake unless it is bound in place by being formed in or anchored to sediment.[4] One litre of fully saturated methane clathrate solid would therefore contain about 120 grams of methane.

  2. GregT on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 8:00 am 

    The methane clathrate gun has already begun to be fired. It is estimated that there is enough methane in the Arctic to completely cook our planet several times over as these deposits melt on their own.

    We should be far more concerned with how to stop them from melting, than we should be about exploiting them as an energy source.

  3. joe on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 8:51 am 

    Just a thought, thermodynamically speaking. Wouldn’t global sea warming melt this ice, so to melt it, it would actually cool the earth outside the sea, therefore the process is slowed. Anyway the permafrost in Russia is melting with hydrates beyond measure in that too. So either way we would be screwed in the long term.

  4. Nony on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 11:46 am 

    Yes, Rock is right on the stoichiometry, but he misses the density. THat is essentially solid ice with methane in the matrix. So, a scf of clathrate contains 170 scf of methane. A volumetric barrel of clathrate contains 80% the energy content of barrel of crude oil. So, the natural gas here is much more highly concentrated than in typical reservoir rocks.

    Liberation of the ng can be done by heating it OR by reducing the pressure (it is not stable at atmospheric pressure and spontaneously dissasocites.

    The big issue is recovery cost. It is not economical to mine the blue ice and there are various schemes to try to liberate the gas in situ and then collect it by drilling. However, to date, none of these are economic.

  5. Davy on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 12:05 pm 

    NOo, you don’t really think there is any hope for this resource do you? I would bet on Arctic oil long before methane ice. I feel this talk is just more examples of the many unlikely energy sources being condidered that would never even have been considered unless we were nearing peak oil and limits of growth.

  6. Nony on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 12:12 pm 

    I don’t have a strong opinion. I don’t see it coming in any time soon, but the utilization of tar sands and shale oil (and especially shale gas) gives me pause. Sometimes these things take a few decades to figure out.

  7. Apneaman on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 12:14 pm 

    Methane Hydrates – Extended Interview Extracts With Natalia Shakhova

  8. Apneaman on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 12:16 pm 

    Arctic Methane Emergency

  9. Davy on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 12:44 pm 

    Ape Man, sobering feed on atmospheric methane but of course followed by unlikely solutions.

  10. Davy on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 1:38 pm 

    Here are some good graphics against the AGW deny’ers on a MSM site.

  11. J-Gav on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 1:48 pm 

    I do have a strong opinion on this subject and it may be summarized as follow: Are you fucking kidding me or what? You really want more methane in the atmosphere, you’ll get it!

  12. Northwest Resident on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 1:58 pm 

    J-Gav — In Nony World, it doesn’t matter how many fossil fuels get burned because air temperature and quality is strictly regulated. Reality rarely intrudes on the residents of Nony World. Burning methane may end up causing severe and destructive problems elsewhere, but nobody in Nony World cares because it doesn’t affect the residents of that dreamy paradise. Nothing bad ever happens to residents of Nony World because, you know, they have their own reality, and besides, it is all somebody else’s problem.

  13. apneaman on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 2:00 pm 

    Davy, there are 278 fires burning in Alaska right now on only the 4th day of summer, but even that is not enough for the denier apes. The true believers among them will never concede.

    More than 200 fires are burning in Alaska right now. That’s an even bigger problem than it sounds

  14. BobInget on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 3:38 pm 

    After viewing the two YouTube videos Apneaman linked, I’m blown away. Powerful stuff that.

  15. Davy on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 3:38 pm 

    Funny Ape Man, how us hairless apes can normalize danger as it becomes routine. Our news cycles can only handle so much doom and gloom so there is room for the juicy tabloid sexy stuff. If it ain’t really bad shit then it gets kicked out. Then it floats around the net for a curious hairless ape like yourself Ape Man to alert us to the bad mojo.

  16. BobInget on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 3:44 pm 

    Alaska is burning. This must have aftereffect on
    permafrost melt.
    Again, thanks to Apneaman

  17. rockman on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 4:30 pm 

    Those are Wiki numbers so tell them. But regardless does everyone understand that liberate the methane you’re not going to drill a hole thru the deposit and flow it to surface? You have convert the entire mass of ice liquid either by heat or pressure reduction. Again picture it in your mind’s eye: X hundres of thousands of cubic feet of ice have be disolved leaving a giant void under the sea floor. Can you picture the collapse potential. So again this isn’t free methane in the pores of a rock. Those methane molecules are part of the frozen water crystals. Each water crystal has the be broken apart to release the methane molecules.

  18. Northwest Resident on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 4:41 pm 

    rockman — Thanks for noting the near physical impossibility of turning “Ice Gas” into any kind of viable energy source. I guess we all know what this article and others like it are trying to do. The “herd” is getting very nervous out there. The wolves are circling closer and the “herd” needs to be reassured and kept calm. Just keep telling them everything will be alright, nothing to worry about, we’ve got it handled. Just another sweet lullaby to pass the time until the lights go out.

  19. apneaman on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 4:47 pm 

    To further illustrate rockman’s point on the volatility of clathrates, view this 2 min video of a robot extracting a small chunk of methane clathrate.

  20. Nony on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 6:13 pm 

    I said you had the stoichiometry right. There’s no disagreement.

    However, it’s still misleading. The point is that the concentration is still high because the material is a solid. Volumetrically, blue ice has 80% the energy concentration of liquid crude oil. How many reservoirs do you know that have that density? What do you think the concentration of methane is within typical source rocks?

    Or think about a cylinder of air. Yes, there is only 20% oxygen and 80% nitrogen. But it the cylinder is at 4500 psig, it is still more oxygen density than pure oxygen at 100 psig.

    I already agreed with the points about difficulty in extraction. Obviously no one is getting any production out of this resource now and the knowledge of clathrates has been around for 50 years. So, no debate.

    BTW, the approaches being researched are to try to liberate it in situ and then flow gas to a drill hole. That may not work either. But it is what they are looking into. Not some plan to scoop up the blue ice and bring to the surface and then release it there.

    (see page 4 and 5)

  21. rockman on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 7:53 pm 

    Nony – Yes…in situ conversion of millions of cubic feet of ice to release the methane. And what happens to that giant cavity sitting just under the sea bed. Now if they’ve figured out how to release the methane without that phase change…great. But they’ve not published anything along that line as fwr as I’ve been able to find.

    I understand the magnitud of the RESOURCE is huge. Now they just have to figure out to turn it into RESERVE both physically and economicly. But I’ll conceed that if anyone can make that magic happen it will be Japan.

  22. 35Kas on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 9:17 pm 

    I’ll just say that actually harvesting methane clathrates is not that complicated. Since when disturbed the solid melts/evaporates, all that has to be done is to cover the collection area in an impermeable membrane and let gravity do the work by letting the gas bubble up to the surface. You don’t want to let it get absorbed by the water column, so the water inside the membrane, contacting the resource, has to be saturated. The gas rises along the membrane into pipes to the surface where it can be flared/collected and used for power generation the same way it is done in landfills.

  23. apneaman on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 9:46 pm 

    35Kas, maybe you should tell the dozens of governments and companies who have spent billions trying to extract the methane from the sea bed for more than 30 years. I’m sure they would appreciate your simpleness.

    Methane clathrates – the karogen of the sea.

  24. Davy on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 10:06 pm 

    35, your minds eye reminded me of Deepwater Horizon and how easy it was to work around the blow hole. Remember the fuzzy footage of the evil oil rising and all the bent drill pipe wreckage.

  25. Gil on Wed, 24th Jun 2015 11:24 pm 

    Davy, ever see an oil spill in an ocean environment? I have, and it is not pretty. The oil debris mixes with saltwater, algae, and other ocean elements to become a thick brown good that sticks to everything it touches. I have watched seals, sea lions, a host of bird life and land mammals that frequent the tidal zones coated in the toxic mess – 90+% of which essentially suffocate. Oil becomes incorporated in the beach sands and tidal zone lands continuing to leach their toxins into the water column for decades.

  26. simonr on Thu, 25th Jun 2015 7:12 am 

    Rockman, It will be done when the cost per therm warrants it.

    However could anyone afford this.

  27. Davy on Thu, 25th Jun 2015 7:51 am 

    Gil, I can only imagine. It is ashame even after the oil age is over the stuff will still be roaming the oceans. I have read many of the wells that have been capped can and will eventually leak. Do you have any information on that?

  28. GregT on Thu, 25th Jun 2015 8:19 am 

    The human race is clearly suicidal.

  29. Newfie on Thu, 25th Jun 2015 8:54 pm 

    No. Just stupid.

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