Mainstream production of natural gas from methane hydrate—viewed as a vast, largely untapped resource capable of potentially yielding more natural gas than shale—has not been perceived as happening anytime soon. Due primarily to shale’s widespread availability, incentives to commercialize the needed technology have been lacking. Also, the process has been deemed exceedingly more expensive than is the case with shale.
However, costs related to extracting shale gas have dropped considerably during the past 10 years, and the price of the technology needed to capture natural gas from methane hydrate could drop as well.
Furthermore, this past November, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)—which since 1982 has been researching methane hydrate’s potential—reported plans to revitalize its commitment to methane hydrate via $5 million in funding across seven nationwide research projects focused on the energy source, including the extraction process.
Methane hydrates are described as lattice-like structures that contain natural gas. They are found onshore and offshore, including under arctic permafrost and the ocean floor. When rendered unstable, the solid crystalline structures turn into liquid, releasing the methane gas within.
Stable hydrates are estimated to contain more carbon than all fossil fuel available on Earth combined, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the DOE’s statistical arm, which also reports that methane hydrate could hold as much as 10,000 trillion to more than 100,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
In comparison, there are just over 7,000 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas deposits throughout the world, the Obama administration said in 2013.
“We know that methane hydrates hold vast potential as a future energy resource,” Ray Boswell, program manager on methane hydrates for the department’s National Energy Technology Lab, told the NationalJournal, adding that the substance “absolutely” will play a role in the President Obama’s all-encompassing energy strategy.
A key problem with methane hydrate, however, resides in the intrinsic difficulty of natural gas extraction. Drilling into the substance, for instance, could cause surface collapse—methane hydrates are typically found in shallower regions than shale gas deposits.
To read the article by the National Journal cited in this story, click here