Worldwide Energy Boon: Ice that Burns

By:  Rebecca Terrell
05/04/2012
       
Worldwide Energy Boon: Ice that Burns

Vast stores of natural gas trapped in methane hydrates offer a low-cost alternative energy source that could jump-start the U.S. economy now that research by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has proven successful in safely and economically extracting it.

Vast stores of natural gas trapped in methane hydrates offer a low-cost alternative energy source that could jump-start the U.S. economy now that research by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has proven successful in safely and economically extracting it.

 

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is expanding research in technology to extract natural gas from Alaska's North Slope. On Wednesday U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu (pictured) announced these plans in the wake of DOE's successful field trial to obtain natural gas from methane hydrates trapped in ice crystals. He called the test unprecedented and credited the potential reserves with a possible 30 percent reduction in gas prices by 2025 and the creation of thousands of American jobs. "While this is just the beginning, this research could potentially yield significant new supplies of natural gas," explained Chu.

While DOE's technology is groundbreaking, the discovery of this resource is not new. In 1992 the U.S. Geological Survey reported major economic implications of methane hydrates and conservatively estimated worldwide reserves contained "twice the amount of carbon to be found in all known fossil fuels on Earth." Writing for The New American in 2007, Ed Hiserodt compared annual U.S. natural gas usage of 25 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) to geologists' assessments of natural gas in methane hydrates ranging from 7,000 to 73,000 Tcf, which equates to a 280- to 2,920-year supply. Such resources could mean a massive boost to the economy since natural gas runs about 10 percent the cost of oil. Utilities and chemical companies are investing heavily in ways to replace oil with natural gas.

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