Huge new energy source

A discovery by scientists may have more than doubled the world’s energy reserves. They have found vast amounts of natural gas frozen into the sea bed, potentially containing more energy than all the world’s known coal, oil and gas reserves combined. The methane gas is mixed with water, and frozen solid by the high pressure and low temperatures in the deep sea.

Methane hydrate, as the substance is known, has long been regarded by oil and gas companies as a nuisance, because it can block marine drilling rigs. Now a study by Statoil, Norway’s state oil firm and a leading global gas producer, suggests it should be reclassified as a significant fuel resource, with enough buried in the oceans to power the world for decades or even centuries.

“The energy content of methane occurring in hydrate form is immense, possibly exceeding the combined energy content of all other known fossil fuels,” said Espen Andersen, Statoil’s exploration manager in unconventional hydrocarbons, who will present his study at an energy conference next week.

Such claims will anger environmentalists, who fear that global exploitation of the deep sea bed would put marine life at risk, especially whales and dolphins, which are sensitive to noise. It would also mean an increase in the burning of fossil fuel — so worsening climate change.

The research follows the growing excitement generated by Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (Jogmec), which has been drilling test wells into methane hydrate reserves in the Nankai trough, off Japan’s southwest coast.

It predicts the first gas will be extracted this year, and suggests there could be enough methane hydrate in the trough to supply all Japan’s energy for 300 years.

Such discoveries have sparked a global search to find other areas with high concentrations of methane hydrate, with Statoil one of the leading companies involved. Huge reserves are already believed to lie off China, South Korea and India, countries that are all currently reliant on imports.


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