SOURCE: DW.com

DATE: May 31, 2018

SNIP: [T]he US Department of Energy recently launched a six-year, $80 million (€65 million) project to drill core samples of methane hydrate from the Gulf of Mexico.

The cost and technical challenges of mining methane hydrate mean it’s a long way from being commercially viable, particularly in North America where gas and oil are relatively cheap.

But [Peter] Flemings, [a geoscientist at the University of Texas and the project’s principal investigator] says that could change as the science improves. “This could be analogous to shale 30 years ago,” he said. “None of us thought we were going to produce oil and gas out of shale back then.”

India and China are also looking into exploiting under-sea reserves, while Russia and Canada focus on extracting it from beneath permafrost.

“Russia and Canada have done a lot because they have vast arctic territories where methane hydrate is known to exist in permafrost,” Steve Holbrook, professor of geosciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, said. “They have done cutting-edge work both in understanding the reservoir and in experimenting with ways to try to produce it.”

Another 100 years of hydrocarbons? “Methane hydrate has the potential to extend the fossil fuel age by a century or more,” Richard Charter, a senior fellow with The Ocean Foundation [said]. “There may be more methane hydrate out there than all of the remaining oil and gas.”

Methane is a natural gas that contains carbon. Burning it releases less CO2 into the atmosphere than coal or oil, but emissions still contribute to climate change.

Worse, methane itself is a greenhouse gas that’s about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. If it’s not extracted carefully, leaks pose a real risk to the climate.

“That would accelerate warming of the seas and melting of permafrost, which could, in turn, cause the release of even more methane,” Charter said. “We could end up frying the planet.”