Methane Myopia: 2 – Energy Science

Methane Myopia - Energy Science

The science of methane is very political because there are large reserves of natural gas [which are being actively harvested] and massive reserves of gas hydrates [which are not being harvested] which could transform the world economy.

Natural gas is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, but commonly includes varying amounts of other higher alkanes and even a lesser percentage of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and hydrogen sulfide.

Natural gas is an energy source often used for heating, cooking, and electricity generation.

It is also used as fuel for vehicles and as a chemical feedstock in the manufacture of plastics and other commercially important organic chemicals.

Natural gas extraction by countries in cubic meters per year

Natural gas extraction by countries in cubic meters per year

The tantalizing prospect of harvesting the Earth’s huge reserves of [primarily] methane clathrate is encouraging research into new technologies that can economically extract natural gas from gas hydrates.

Crystallized natural gas — hydrates
Huge quantities of natural gas (primarily methane) exist in the form of hydrates under sediment on offshore continental shelves and on land in arctic regions that experience permafrost, such as those in Siberia.

Hydrates require a combination of high pressure and low temperature to form.

However, as of 2010 no technology has been developed yet to extract natural gas economically from hydrates.

In 2010, using current technology, the cost of extracting natural gas from crystallized natural gas is estimated to 100–200 per cent the cost of extracting natural gas from conventional sources, and even higher from offshore deposits.

Methane Hydrate Stability Zone Thickness

Dissolved Gases other than Carbon Dioxide in Seawater

The development of economic extraction technologies would transform the economic prospects of many developing countries by reducing their reliance upon imported petroleum [and the US dollar].

China and India have reported massive finds of frozen methane gas off their coasts, which they hope will satisfy their energy needs…

In the West, this potential fuel from the ocean floor has for the most part been the stuff of fantasy.

But it’s a different story in Asia.

The People’s Republic of China is investing millions to study this massive source of energy.

The same holds true for India, South Korea and Taiwan, all nations that are on a fast track to surpassing the West as economic powers.

Warning Signs on the Ocean Floor: China and India Exploit Icy Energy Reserves
Gerald Traufetter – DER SPIEGEL

Tempering the enthusiasm for new gas hydrate technologies are the “environmentalists” who believe “tapping these resources could have adverse effects on the world climate.”

But environmentalists fear that tapping these resources could have adverse effects on the world climate.

Warning Signs on the Ocean Floor: China and India Exploit Icy Energy Reserves
Gerald Traufetter – DER SPIEGEL

Unfortunately, mainstream science became political and untrustworthy many years ago.

This untrustworthiness was clearly demonstrated in the previous posting that examined the claim that methane is an “indirect greenhouse gas”.

Overall, the settled science presented by Wikipedia indicates that methane is not an indictable indirect greenhouse gas because the oxidation of methane produces water vapour which forms clouds that prevent incoming solar radiation from warming the surface of the Earth.

Methane Myopia: 1 – Political Science

Unsurprisingly, the most egregious claim [addressed in that posting] was sourced from none other than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] which was established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization way back in 1988.

Finally hydrogen can lead to ozone production and CH4 increases as well as producing water vapor in the stratosphere.[13]

13. Forster, P. et al. (2007). “2.10.3 Indirect GWPs”.
Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press.

One peculiar aspect of this political debate is that both parties have a vested interest in making the numbers BIG.

This is demonstrated by the following article which quotes its methane numbers in the incomprehensible units of teragrams per year [Tg yr−1] instead of the more reasonable equivalent of one million metric tons per year.

Perhaps the “environmentalists” think teragrams is terrifying.
Perhaps the developing nations think teragrams is terrific.

Either way, it’s probably best to take all the numbers with a pinch of salt.

Remarkable amounts of methane, estimated in the order of 40–60 Tg yr−1, are naturally released into the atmosphere from the Earth’s crust through faults and fractured rocks.

The main source is natural gas, both microbial and thermogenic, produced in hydrocarbon-prone sedimentary basins and injected into the atmosphere through macro-seeps (onshore and offshore mud volcanoes and other seeps) and microseepage, an invisible but pervasive flux from the soil.

Geological seepage of Methane in Europe - 1
Geological seepage of Methane in Europe - 2

Examples of macro-seeps in Europe and Azerbaijan.

(a) Eruption of Lokbatan mud volcano, Azerbaijan (photo by Phil Hardy, BBC News), and
(b) its degassing crater 1 year later;
(c) Yanardag fire, Azerbaijan;
(d) New Bakhar mud volcano, Azerbaijan;
(e and f) Paclele Mari mud volcano, Romania;
(g) Pineto mud volcano, Italy;
(h) Monte Busca fire, Italy;
(i and j) Regnano mud volcano, Italy;
(k) Faros seep and
(l) submarine Katakolo seep, Peloponnesus, Greece;

Natural emissions of methane from geological seepage in Europe
Giuseppe Etiope – Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Roma, Italy

Wikipedia miraculously manages to arrive at a figure of 270 teragrams per year for the total emissions of methane [from natural sources] without bothering to include the 40 to 60 teragrams of methane that “are naturally released into the atmosphere from the Earth’s crust through faults and fractured rocks”.

Wikipedia - Natural Methane Emissions

Wikipedia has also miraculously managed to [wilfully] trap itself in a 2010 time warp.

However, as of 2010 no technology has been developed yet to extract natural gas economically from hydrates.

This is because their environmental rhetoric [against methane] was totally undermined in 2012 by field trials which extracted natural gas from methane hydrate by replacing the CH4 [in the hydrate matrix] with CO2.

Successful Field Test on the Alaska North Slope
The Department of Energy has partnered with ConocoPhillips and the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation to conduct a test of natural gas extraction from methane hydrate using a unique production technology, developed through laboratory collaboration between the University of Bergen, Norway, and ConocoPhillips.

The team injected a mixture of carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen into the formation, and demonstrated that this mixture could promote the production of natural gas.

U.S. and Japan Complete Successful Field Trial of Methane Hydrate Production Technologies – May 2, 2012

Field trial of a methane hydrate production
Completion of Field Trial of CO2 Exchange in Alaska
Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC)

Evidently, this field trial hasn’t gone down well with Wikipedia because they are still busy manning the ramparts in the “environmentalist” battle against methane in a phoney war.

However, [and this is the main point of this post] even a hardened cynic would be inclined to conclude that there appears to be a huge amount of natural methane floating around on planet Earth.

To be continued…

UPDATE 12 Nov 2013

A trial in Japan [during March 2013] has successfully extracted methane gas from offshore deposits of methane hydrate using a depressurization technique that dissociates the hydrate matrix.

Gas Production from Methane Hydrate Layers Confirmed

Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (“JOGMEC”, Headquarter: Minato-ku, Tokyo, President: Hirobumi Kawano), which has been conducting preparation works for the first offshore production test off the coasts of Atsumi and Shima peninsulas, started a flow test applying the depressurization method and confirmed production of methane gas estimated from methane hydrate layers on March 12, 2013.

Japan, a front runner in the world, conducted two times of onshore production tests in Canada as international joint studies. The first test conducted in FY 2001 tested the heating method or the hot water circulation method which dissociates methane hydrate by raising temperature. The second test from FY2007 to FY2008 tested the depressurization method which dissociates methane hydrate by decreasing temperature. As the result, it was proven that the depressurization method is able to dissociate methane hydrate more efficiently. Therefore, it is planned to apply the depressurization method to this offshore production test as well.

Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation – 12 March 2013

Natural gas production from methane hydrate layers confirmed
World’s first offshore methane hydrate production test

On March 12, 2013, the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) started the world’s first offshore production test to dissociate methane hydrate and extract natural gas off the coasts from Atsumi Peninsula to Shima Peninsula in Japan (Daini Atsumi Knoll), and confirmed the production of natural gas.

Offshore Methane Hydrate Production Test
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry – Japan – 12 March 2013

However, the trial ended after six day because of a “tentative malfunction of the pump to draw water for depressurization” and an “increase in sand production”.

JOGMEC has been conducting gas production until now.

However, it ended the flow test today on March 18 since changes in well situation, including tentative malfunction of the pump to draw water for depressurization and simultaneous increase in sand production, have been seen and a rough weather was forecasted.

Although the first offshore production test is not a commercial production and is an experimental operation as an activity in research, it will be a big progress in research and development of methane hydrate as a resource since precious data including dissociation behavior of methane hydrate under the sea floor, impact to the surrounding environment, and so on, would be obtained once this test ends in success.

Based on accomplishment of the production test, it is also planned to proceed with the second offshore production test scheduled in Phase 2 and establishing the technological platform toward future commercial production in Phase 3 which is scheduled from FY2016 until FY2018.

Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation – 18 March 2013

The natural gas flow test from methane hydrate layers that was started on March 12, 2013, was ended at 14:00 on March 18, 2013. After the test, operations including well abandonment are to be carried out until about the end of March at the site.

METI - Japan - Natural Gas extraction from methane hydrate

Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry – Japan – 18 March 2013

The IHS Unconventional Energy Blog provides an interesting perspective on the Japanese trials.

Estimates from JOGMEC state that the Nankai Trough contains 1.1 trillion cm (39tcf) of methane reserves, enough to provide Japan with 11 years of total gas supply.

A separate study from the National Institute of Advanced Science and Technology has estimated that there are roughly 7 tcm of methane hydrate in the waters surrounding Japan, equal to about 100 years of Japan’s gas supply needs.

The first sustained flow tests in Japan and the US can certainly be considered a milestone judging by historical experience in the hydrocarbon industry, and they advance a previously expected timeline of methane hydrate commercialisation from decades to possibly 15 years as estimated by JOGMEC.

While a global roll-out of methane hydrate extraction is unlikely to materialize in the foreseeable future, the implications of the new energy source for countries lacking access to conventional resources are profound.

For resource-poor Japan, domestically produced methane hydrate gas has the potential to reduce the fossil fuel import dependence that has defined its energy system throughout the modern era.

The high cost of Japanese LNG imports has given Japan greater motivation to press ahead with its methane hydrate research programme.

At the conclusion of the test METI officials stated that the results may be sufficient to lead to commercialisation, although it remains doubtful as to whether Japan will be able to reach its ambitious target to scale commercial gas production from methane hydrates by 2028.

Japan’s methane hydrates natural gas extraction – a game changer?
Claudia Belahmidi, Energy Analyst, IHS – May 23, 2013

The state broadcaster in the United Kingdom [BBC] commented upon the trial, with their usual scare mongering spin, by mentioning environmental concerns and unstable geology.

Japan extracts gas from methane hydrate in world first
Japan says it has successfully extracted natural gas from frozen methane hydrate off its central coast, in a world first.

Offshore deposits present a potentially enormous source of methane but also some environmental concern, because the underwater geology containing them is unstable in many places.

Hat Tip: Many thanks to A C Osborn for commenting upon this Japanese achievement.

Gallery | This entry was posted in Astrophysics, Earth, Fossil Fuels, Geology, Science, Solar System. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Methane Myopia: 2 – Energy Science

  1. A C Osborn says:

    The Japanese are actively exploring their own Methane Hydrate fields off their coast, see this BBC (of all people) article
    and this article as well

    Thanks for the amazing update – Tim

  2. Pingback: Carbon 14 – Lifting the Veil | MalagaBay

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