Methane Hydrates and the coming apocalypse
We've been had again. The OCS moratorium was a lie as gas exploration in the Cascadia Subduction Zone region has been ongoing since 1982. And now we are about to see the world pushed from one fossil fuel to another so we stay addicted to the oil and gas treadmill and the companies it supports. And we dont have long to wake up.
Fire In Ice
For the past 30 years there has been strong support for a moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). However, the OCS moratorium, enacted in 1981 for California and expanded to include most of the US OCS, was a lie. Intensive gas exploration (3D seismic surveying and exploratory drilling) has been carried out on an annual basis ever since the moratorium was enacted, primarily off the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey and the Carolina's. This research was either fully funded by government, or in a cost sharing partnership with the oil industry, under a) the guise of seeking a better understanding of ocean floor and subfloor geologic processes and b) via Congressional mandate, researching methane hydrates (MH) under the Methane Hydrate Research and Development Act of 2000 (MHR&DA) and Bush's disastrous EPAct 2005.
MH is simply frozen methane, ice beds hundreds of feet thick that cover the ocean floor close to continents in known fault zones. Governments worldwide call it the fuel of the future, and for a reason. Estimates place the hydrate reserves at twice all other known hydrocarbon (oil, gas, coal) sources combined, and has the potential to meet global energy needs for the next thousand years. That is why since 1982 the US, Canada, India, Japan, Germany, and many others, have spent billions of dollars on MH research.
U.S. resources of MH are estimated to be 200,000 Tcf (trillion cubic feet). If U.S. consumption of natural gas (NG) were to double, and only 10% of in-place hydrate is recoverable, it would still provide the US with natural gas for 400 years. And all major deposits in the continental US lie offshore in the OCS, with the largest reserves along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, Cape Mendocino to the Canadian border (NCal, OR, WA).
The research our government has carried out produces the same data that the oil industry would need for oil, and gas (including MH) identification and extraction. In short, we banned OCS exploration only to have tax payer money subsidize the very same research. And all of this research has been done in violation of numerous laws designed to protect our ocean environment, ie Coastal Zone Management Act, Public Trust Doctrine etc.
Even more troubling, of the research performed, little has gone into understanding potential impacts from MH extraction, including the acidification of our oceans leading to a complete breakdown of the marine food chain, damage to the marine environment from seismic testing, continued addiction to fossil fuels, MH landslides capable of releasing untold amounts of methane and CO2, increased pressure on faultlines from seismic testing and drilling, and other issues of great importance.
To understand the danger that extraction of MH presents, we need only look at oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), where drilling through the MH beds, as stated in Congressional testimony, has caused blowouts, lost wells, damage to platforms, massive expulsions of methane and significantly increased atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHG). The following is from DOE; The dissociation of gas hydrates can be slow or explosive, depending on the chemical content and concentrations of the hydrates, as well as how fast the pressure and temperature conditions around the hydrates change. Conventional drilling operations through hydrates can cause rapid pressure and temperature changes, leading to blowouts and/or destabilization of the seafloor which may result in massive landslides or sand flows.
The greatest threat comes from MH landslides capable of releasing enough methane to accelerate global warming and acidification of the oceans similar to previous extinction events. This theory, known as the 'hydrate gun hypothesis' has been put forth by many respected scientists and notable authorities including NASA, but debunked by industry supported research. That industry has attempted to debunk this research means a) it is valid, b) it is a show stopper and c) it needs to be eliminated at all costs so operations can proceed further.
The hydrate gun refers to free gas that is trapped under the ice beds, as well as methane released from the MH. Picture a block of ice on a metal surface at a very slight angle. Underneath the block of ice is a huge bubble of gas. The block and surface are frozen together, and the slope is not enough to cause gravitational movement by itself. Now heat up the surface slowly and eventually the block will slide as the ice at the contact point turns to a liquid releasing the block and freeing the bubble of gas to rise to the surface. This is what oil and gas extraction does as described above. When that happens on a large enough scale the release can be sufficient to cause catastrophic conditions (extinction events).
On a lesser scale as is currently happening in the GOM, methane release is greatly exacerbating global warming, as methane is a GHG 24 times more deadly than CO2, a precursor to ozone and smog and considered to be many times more dangerous than previously thought. The following is from NASA; "According to new calculations, the impacts of methane on climate warming may be double the standard amount attributed to the gas....The true source of some of the warming that is normally attributed to tropospheric ozone is really due to methane....Control of methane emissions turns out to be a more powerful lever to control global warming than would be anticipated."
Also of concern is that atmospheric methane is increasing at an alarming rate since 2005, and scientists blame MH melting and release as a primary cause. This is because hydrate beds in permafrost and in the Artic ocean have started to release large amounts of prehistoric methane as once feared, kicking in feedback loops that are causing even more release. In 2007 they found the concentration of dissolved methane in seawater samples was two to ten times higher than in samples taken previously from the same locations. Then, last summer, they observed methane plumes bubbling to the surface over hundreds of square kilometers of the shallow waters along the Siberian Shelf. Add that to the MH being released by the 4000 plus deepwater GOM oil rigs currently operating in MH beds and....uh-oh.
Concerning historical methane impact, scientists have found, by studying ice cores, that methane spikes correlated to global warming and extinction events, while methane lows correlated to ice ages. Currently we are heading towards a spike. And even the worst case scenarios of potential global warming are already proving to be under estimates. Glaciers are retreating, ice shelves are calving, and temperatures are rising faster than anyone predicted or feared.
Which brings us to why most people have never heard of methane hydrates, or that the OCS moratorium was being violated on an annual basis. Governments and industry have kept it out of the spotlight on purpose, hoping to put together a case for its use that foreshadowed all other concerns. That is now being completed. The MH Advisory Committee recently proposed releasing the information about the massive energy potential of MH to the public by using scare tactics and equating the need to exploit it with homeland security. News stories are now coming out calling MH a renewable, safe, clean, environmentally friendly fuel of the future. Natural gas vehicles are being called the greenest cars on the road. And the infrastructure to handle the expected increase of this fuel is already being designed or put into place, including NG (or E85 which can be NG) pumps in major gas stations, offshore terminals, and extraction equipment and methods that unfortunately mimic the conditions that cause catastrophic slides. Once in place natural gas will be plentiful and cheap. So much so that a truly renewable fuel won't be able to compete. And we'll be back on the fossil fuel treadmill.
Fossil fuel natural gas is not a clean fuel and shouldn't even be called an alternative fuel. It produces only 15% less GHGs than California gasoline. And it's extraction will produce massive amounts of oceanic methane release potentially making it a dirtier fuel than gasoline and even coal. It's being pushed on us because its the only way the oil and gas industries can keep us addicted to their products. Renewables can be manufactured by anyone. Methane hydrates, like the production of gasoline, can only be done by them.
The only clean natural gas is methane captured from landfills, sewage plants etc since using it prevents greater GHGs from direct release. In 1998 the DOE estimated that capturing these sources of biomethane would be the equivalent of removing 90 million light-trucks from the road. Yet little has been done in this area. Only 18% of landfills have capture, and a miniscule fraction of sewage and animal waste is captured.
Like all the other true renewables, we keep hearing that things are going to move in their direction but they never do. They are all purposely being hamstringed. The use of feedstock for ethanol will always cripple it, yet 95% of all new plants being built will only use feedstock. The money for the big push towards solar we were recently promised is slowly being removed from the energy plan because too much was given away to the banks. At the same time, a bill introduced last week, HR 1835, calls for 50% of all federal government vehicles to run only on natural gas by the year 2014. If fossil fuel methane jumps into the place where gasoline is now, there will be no getting rid of it. It will be here for the duration of life on this planet, since the planet won't survive another 100 years of fossil fuel use.
In 1776, men and women of this country rose up and declared that they would not allow the present form of government to exist because it was not providing a sane, healthy and supportive framework for society to exist in. The list of grievances they presented would be dwarfed by the actions taken by our government in the last 50 years. And now the current administration is behind the conversion to natural gas 100% as past and present statements and actions have clearly shown. This can not happen. If the current administration refuses to stop the continued destruction of this planet, then it is time to declare a new state of independence, using the original in part "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all people are created equal and are endowed by Creator with certain unalienable Rights, of which Life, Liberty, a healthy Environment, and the pursuit of Happiness are paramount and Indivisible. (zdan70 at yahoo dot com for more information).
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