Freezer burn takes on a whole different meaning when it is applied to the peculiar characteristics of methane hydrate. Methane hydrate looks just like ice and is created when methane gas and water are fused together by the immense pressure that exists beneath the ocean floor, or in the permafrost of the polar regions. What makes this particular ice interesting is that if you put a match to it, it will catch fire. And if a single cubic meter of methane hydrate is simply melted instead of burned, it will yield 164 cubic meters of natural gas.
Experts estimate that there could be anywhere from 10 quadrillion to 100 quadrillion cubic feet of this natural gas encased in ice; a quadrillion is 1 with 15 zeroes after it. For reference, it is estimated that the United States has about 2.203 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas, which is also estimated to last the country about 92 years. This untapped natural gas could last the equivalent of 417 to 4167 years for the United States.
But despite the immense wealth of potential energy to be found in methane hydrate, there is no cost effective way to harness it at this time. Harvesting natural gas from shale costs about $4 per million BTUs. It costs between $30 and $60 per million BTUs to harvest from methane hydrate. A decade ago, natural gas miners faced the same essential issue attempting to acquire gas from the shale. The current technology may not be advanced enough right now, however, in time, we will have the means to effectively extract natural gas from the methane hydrate.
Finding a way to acquire these vast untapped gases would change the energy needs of the entire world. Most countries rely on oil to satisfy their energy needs, but natural gas, especially in the quantities estimated, could effectively eliminate the need for such high carbon fuels. We likely won’t be able to harness all the gas from methane hydrate for another 10 to 15 years.
There are also some concerns regarding extracting the gas from the ice, these are centered on methane escaping and leaking into the atmosphere. While methane doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide does, it insulates about 20 times more heat. According to the Department of Energy, the chances of methane leaking into the atmosphere during extraction from methane hydrate is no higher than the chances of it escaping from shale.
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