Today’s News paper Headline read India gets closer to the Energy of the future.
Gas Hydrates -The gas hydrate are a crystalline solid, similar in appearance to ice, but consists of molecules of gas surrounded by a mesh of water molecules. Although they were discovered experimentally in 1811 by Sir Humphry Davy, it was later in 1970, that they were detected by geophysical methods in marine sediments from the Blake Outer Ridge Foundation (USA).
Buried deep along India’s 7,500 km of coastline is a vast fuel reserve that can meet our needs for several centuries.These hydrates, which some believe could hold the world’s largest supply of carbon — roughly 4,200,000 trillion cubic feet of Methane in some of the fields discovered. According to Edith Allison, the USA’s DoE (department of energy) exploration program manager, replacing coal in power plants with methane extracted from gas hydrates could slash carbon dioxide emissions by up to 50%. The interesting thing is about these hydrates is that at great pressures and low temperatures in the oceans, they are very stable crystals. If mined and brought to atmospheric conditions they produce 160 times their volume of methane. And that is what is seducing energy hunters. Methane is a readily usable fuel.
Earlier Deep sea deposition of carbon dioxide clathrate has been proposed as a method to remove this greenhouse gas from the atmosphere and control climate change! Now we are thinking of extracting it for commercial use, as an alternate energy source.
However there are tremendous risks involved as methane is 21 – 23 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2; as per estimates made in the Storegga slide, Norway; a large underwater landslide may cause the output of about 5 gigatons of methane from the seabed to the atmosphere. Given the track record of all deep sea oil exploration, most recent being the BP Oil Spill we must devise foolproof systems and put them in place so that exploring the sea-bed would not cause a underwater landslide. Should that happen the consequences would be extremely detrimental in the efforts to mitigate Global Warming. This is because, although gas hydrates are stable, where they are; once disturbed can be—due to their great expansion ratio—very volatile.
Now, as India too has joined other countries into research examining the energy potential of gas hydrates, or methane clathrates and it is surely an exciting matter to see our scientists form National Institute of Ocean Technology ( NIOT ) are one step away from quantifying and identifying the gas fields , one must bear in mind that as Indian methane hydrate sediments are close to coastlines; they can be in layers that are 13 kilometres deep; mining for them can set off ‘landslides’ down there. For India, which has a sorry record of land based mining in various states, it is important that such dangerous activity must not be given out to private companies. Unmonitored mining could cause landslides, releasing methane into the atmosphere and accelerate global warming, with consequences that can only be horrific. Thus the potential of the “greenhouse effect” exploding to uncontrollable proportion must be studied in detail and its effective mitigation, prevention and disaster management methods must be debated in open scientific forum and consensus arrived . The total marine ecosystem is dependent on it.
In fact the UNFCCC must add this into their discussion agenda at Rio+20 and should it be the situation where the World leaders agree that gas hydrate extraction is the next alternate energy they all want to tap; a standard world-class regulation should be created for all to follow, under the watchful eyes of the UN. Perhaps an international watchdog body similar to the IAEA be mooted.
But before we go about mining the sea bed, an ecosystem most of us hardly understand, and could become more controversial than Nuclear. Should India not spend its effort and money on alternate energy which are easier to achieve especially Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Bio-gas, Bio-fuel, Micro-Hydle and even Wave-energy whose potential are immense? And with India having a good Solar insloation and long coast line, Wind & Solar which are already gaining popularity must be made to run its full potential.
- Energy For 1000 Years? Gas-Hydrate Tests To Begin In Alaska (junkscience.com)
- Computer Simulations Revealing How Methane and Hydrogen Pack Into Gas Hydrates Could Enlighten Alternative Fuel Production and Carbon Dioxide Storage (artofthestem.com)
- Canada backs off on research into icebound energy reserves (calgaryherald.com)
- Test Will ‘Mine’ Hydrates for Natural Gas in Alaska (scientificamerican.com)
- You: Offshore drilling begins for methane hydrate (japantimes.co.jp)