A Bush-Cheney Green Energy Project That May Increase America's Proven Natural Gas Reserves by a Factor of 100

Back during the Bush administration in October 2008, under the influence of their Texas oilmen buddies, the Department of Energy entered into a joint public-private partnership with ConocoPhillips and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) to develop America's methane hydrate resources.  Recent success offers the prospect of increasing our energy reserves to previously unheard of levels.

Globally and for the U.S., methane hydrates represent a potentially huge new source of the cleanest fossil fuel. A recent Minerals Management Service study estimated methane hydrate resources in the Gulf of Mexico at 21,000 trillion cubic feet (TCF), one hundred times the current U.S. proved reserves of natural gas. Hydrate accumulations off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and on Alaska's North Slope (ANS) hold additional potential. Yet this potential will remain untapped unless a technically and economically viable means of producing methane from hydrates is found. [Emphasis added.]

The process involves exchanging carbon dioxide for the methane within the water ice lattice that forms the methane hydrate deposits.  As Texas-born LeAnn Rimes noted in Nothing 'Bout Love Makes Sense:

Like a cloud full of rain shouldn't hang in the sky, Ice shouldn't burn, or a bumblebee fly...

But methane hydrate "ice" does indeed burn (watch it here).  This peculiar substance is most familiar to the public for the problems it caused during the oil collection efforts ("the cofferdam") during the BP oil spill.  As methane spewed from the wellhead, it mixed with the sea water and formed methane hydrates ("clathrates") in the dome and the riser, somewhat akin to the way ice forms on airplane wings.  Being less dense than water, it both clogged the riser and provided buoyancy, which lifted the cofferdam away from the wellhead, defeating the effort.

The key facts to understand are that to form clathrates, you need a mix of methane, water, high pressure, and cool temperatures.  Natural seeps of methane caused by decaying organic material in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico over geologic time have resulted in huge deposits of clathrates in the deepwater continental shelf region.  Those deposits are the potential source of those 21,000 trillion cubic feet of methane.

The big picture when it comes to the dynamics of the proposed process would be to capture carbon dioxide from the flue gas of power plants, steel mills, and other large emitters of carbon dioxide and use that gas to exchange with the methane in the clathrates to provide an abundant, clean, domestic source of energy compatible with the existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure.

The successful test well, Ignik Sikumi #1, was located at Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope of Alaska.  Total funding is projected to be $29 million, with half coming from the DOE.  You can see the extent of the deposits in this data sheet.

To exploit these Alaskan deposits, we would need to build a gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Lower 48.  One of Sarah Palin's major decisions as governor of Alaska was to enter into an agreement to develop such a pipeline, called the Alaska Gas Pipeline, with TransCanada Corp (of Keystone XL pipeline fame) and ExxonMobil.

So, voters, take your pick.  Do you prefer spending $500 million on bankrupt Solyndra for green solar power, or $15 million for an innovative combination producing natural gas while also sequestering carbon dioxide?  Does that fit the definition of "Green Energy"?

"Drill, Baby, Drill," anyone?

Full disclosure: Bruce Thompson has an equity position in TransCanada Corp).

Back during the Bush administration in October 2008, under the influence of their Texas oilmen buddies, the Department of Energy entered into a joint public-private partnership with ConocoPhillips and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) to develop America's methane hydrate resources.  Recent success offers the prospect of increasing our energy reserves to previously unheard of levels.

Globally and for the U.S., methane hydrates represent a potentially huge new source of the cleanest fossil fuel. A recent Minerals Management Service study estimated methane hydrate resources in the Gulf of Mexico at 21,000 trillion cubic feet (TCF), one hundred times the current U.S. proved reserves of natural gas. Hydrate accumulations off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and on Alaska's North Slope (ANS) hold additional potential. Yet this potential will remain untapped unless a technically and economically viable means of producing methane from hydrates is found. [Emphasis added.]

The process involves exchanging carbon dioxide for the methane within the water ice lattice that forms the methane hydrate deposits.  As Texas-born LeAnn Rimes noted in Nothing 'Bout Love Makes Sense:

Like a cloud full of rain shouldn't hang in the sky, Ice shouldn't burn, or a bumblebee fly...

But methane hydrate "ice" does indeed burn (watch it here).  This peculiar substance is most familiar to the public for the problems it caused during the oil collection efforts ("the cofferdam") during the BP oil spill.  As methane spewed from the wellhead, it mixed with the sea water and formed methane hydrates ("clathrates") in the dome and the riser, somewhat akin to the way ice forms on airplane wings.  Being less dense than water, it both clogged the riser and provided buoyancy, which lifted the cofferdam away from the wellhead, defeating the effort.

The key facts to understand are that to form clathrates, you need a mix of methane, water, high pressure, and cool temperatures.  Natural seeps of methane caused by decaying organic material in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico over geologic time have resulted in huge deposits of clathrates in the deepwater continental shelf region.  Those deposits are the potential source of those 21,000 trillion cubic feet of methane.

The big picture when it comes to the dynamics of the proposed process would be to capture carbon dioxide from the flue gas of power plants, steel mills, and other large emitters of carbon dioxide and use that gas to exchange with the methane in the clathrates to provide an abundant, clean, domestic source of energy compatible with the existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure.

The successful test well, Ignik Sikumi #1, was located at Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope of Alaska.  Total funding is projected to be $29 million, with half coming from the DOE.  You can see the extent of the deposits in this data sheet.

To exploit these Alaskan deposits, we would need to build a gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Lower 48.  One of Sarah Palin's major decisions as governor of Alaska was to enter into an agreement to develop such a pipeline, called the Alaska Gas Pipeline, with TransCanada Corp (of Keystone XL pipeline fame) and ExxonMobil.

So, voters, take your pick.  Do you prefer spending $500 million on bankrupt Solyndra for green solar power, or $15 million for an innovative combination producing natural gas while also sequestering carbon dioxide?  Does that fit the definition of "Green Energy"?

"Drill, Baby, Drill," anyone?

Full disclosure: Bruce Thompson has an equity position in TransCanada Corp).

RECENT VIDEOS