Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

23 May 2008

An Abundant Future Energy Source?

For some time I have been meaning to write about an interesting article by B. B. Rath of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) from the April 2008 issue of the MRS Bulletin, a publication of the Materials Research Society. In the 1800s, French researchers reported the formation of hydrates of methane, ethane, and propane. In the mid-1930s, Germans discovered that gas pipelines incurred blockages at temperatures above 0 degrees Centigrade due to the formation of solid gas hydrates. Then in the mid-1960s it was realized that there are vast quantities of gas hydrates, primarily methane hydrates, deposited in the ocean sediments on the continental shelves and in the permafrost regions on land. These deposits are produced by microbial decomposition of organic matter or by geothermal heating wherever the temperature and pressure are conducive to the formation of gas hydrates. The amount of gas hydrates is estimated to be approximately twice that of all oil, natural gas, and coal deposits combined.

The Naval Research Laboratory has played a leading role in starting to map out where methane hydrates are to be found in sediment rich areas of the ocean floors and in the tundra regions. The ocean continential shelves all around the world appear to have deposits and to have the lion's share of the total reserves. At a depth of about 500 meters, the solid methane hydrates form due the combination of cold and pressure. In Arctic waters, since the water is colder, the solid gas hydrates are found at depths of about 300 meters. Alaska is believed to be completely surrounded by deposits in the Beaufort Sea Play to the north and in the Bering Sea Play elsewhere. The Northern Pacific Play lays off California, Oregon, and Washington. Then there is the Gulf of Mexico Play from the western coast of Florida to Texas and the Southeastern Atlantic Ocean Play from the middle Florida eastern coast up to Maine.

As a direct fuel source, methane produces energy efficiently on a per weight basis. It also is easy to burn it more cleanly than oil or coal. But, while this energy source may guarantee that mankind will not soon run out of energy, the means to deliver it up for commercial and competitive use does not now exist. Some programs are underway to learn how best to do this. Japan is leading an effort to study the potential of gas hydrates in the Nankai trough, an area that NRL earlier identified as promising. An international consortium is active in the Canadian Arctic area in a program. The United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Department of Energy, and NRL are working to identify methane hydrate fields and gas cavities in the US continental shelves. The USGS is working with India to map fields in its continental shelf. NRL has worked with Chile and New Zealand to learn more about their deposits of methane hydrates. There is some indication China is mapping its deposits.

World demand for energy is expanding rapidly, but the OPEC nations have proven unwilling to expand their production of oil. The Democrats in Congress, with some foolish Republicans, have prevented the drilling for more oil in Alaska, off the Pacific coast, off the Atlantic coast, and off the western Florida coast. The use of nuclear and coal energy sources is discouraged throughout the U.S. Wind farms and solar panel use are prevented by some government entities throughout the U.S. We have made it easy for Arab sheiks and Iranian mullahs with their Holocaust-denying puppets to extract dhimmitude tributes from us, rather as the pirates of the North African coast in Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunis prayed upon American and European trade vessels in the Mediterranean Sea in the 1700s and the early 1800s. Then there is the South American pirate Chavez extorting private companies of their oil fields and using his riches to foment socialist revolutions throughout South America. Even the Russians are becoming more belligerent now that oil is bringing them wealth again. These methane hydrate fields in U. S. waters and throughout the world may well help us limit the ultimate price of a barrel of oil and the time during which we are highly vulnerable to their control of energy.

Of course, we can and should place many other limits on their ability to drive up the price of oil and gas by developing more of our own oil and gas fields. We should produce more jobs and wealth in Iraq by working very hard to get their oil production into high gear. We should get busy building nuclear power plants again. We also have huge deposits of coal to use and have developed excellent scrubbers to remove pollutants. We have tar sands and shale oil to develop, which the Canadians are doing successfully now. One of our biggest problems is that the Federal government holds most of the land with these deposits on it. This is generally not beautiful park land. It is largely land that previously did not have enough economic value that private citizens were induced to put enough pressure on the government to allow them to settle it and develop it. It was wasteland, but modern conservationist nonsense makes it difficult for the Federal government to divest itself of the land.

Unfortunately, the die was cast by decisions made by American governments over the past 30 years that put us into the dire energy cost straits we are in now. If we were to adopt good energy development policies now, we would enjoy a great deal of relief in 10 years. Since the Democrats look to continue to control Congress for the next several years, this crisis will not have a 10 year time limit. The situation may well get worse before it gets better. The only hope is that some OPEC members, Russia, and Mexico will want to take advantage of the huge increase in the price of oil to produce more of it. Most of them have very inefficient national oil companies who have difficulty keeping up oil production, let alone expanding it. The longer it has been since they nationalized their fields, the more inefficient they have tended to become. Unfortunately, if some do increase production, many of those nations will use much of their higher income to cause still greater mischief in the world.

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