House seeks study of huge yet dangerous energy supply : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

House seeks study of huge yet dangerous energy supply

Tuesday, April 04, 2000


WASHINGTON - Deep under the ocean floor and the Arctic permafrost are ice-like deposits of frozen methane with energy potential equal to more than twice that of all other fossil fuels combined. Congress is now ready to put up nearly $50 million to find out if this energy source can be developed without setting off a cataclysmic warming of the globe.

The House approved by voice vote yesterday a measure directing the Energy secretary, working with the secretaries of Interior, Defense and Commerce, to study both methane hydrates as an energy source and the technologies needed for safe, efficient development.

The stakes are high in an age when gas prices are soaring and the nation is overly dependent on foreign oil, said the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Mike Doyle, Democrat of Pennsylvania.

"If only 1 percent of the methane hydrate resource could be made recoverable, the United States could more than double its domestic natural gas resource base," Doyle said in a statement yesterday.

Methane hydrates are ice-like substances found in deep ocean sediments and Arctic permafrost that contain methane in a highly concentrated form.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated the value of gas hydrates in the United States at 320,000 trillion cubic feet of gas, some 200 times conventional natural gas resources and reserves in the country.

Worldwide, the Energy Department's Robert Kripowicz told the House Science Committee's energy and environment panel last May, the natural gas potential of hydrates approach 400 million trillion cubic feet, 80,000 times the world's current known natural gas reserves.

French scientists studied hydrates as early as 1890, but it wasn't until 1981 that the underwater drilling vessel Glomar Challenger was able to retrieve a three-foot long hydrate core off the coast of Guatemala.

Kripowicz said the potential for extracting commercially viable quantities of methane hydrate is "speculative at best," but stressed that the Clinton administration supports the legislation as a means to better understand that potential.

Besides the technological difficulties, there are major concerns about what could happen to the environment as the ice-like crystals are brought to the sea or land surface, depressurize and decompose into gas and water. Doyle said the material could accelerate greenhouse gas accumulations if it escapes into the air, and the removal of hydrates could destabilize the sea floor, posing a serious risk to offshore drilling rigs.

Scientists writing in the journal Science last November said they had evidence to support the theory that the release of frozen methane from the ocean 55 million years ago was responsible for an abrupt warming of the Earth that had a devastating effect on deep-sea life.

)2000 THE PLAIN DEALER. Used with permission.

-- Carl Jenkins (, April 04, 2000

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