Monday, July 28, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Rock doc: A new source of natural gas

By
From page A4 | July 12, 2013 |

The name “natural gas” might be a puzzle. After all, how could there be such a thing as unnatural gas?

The reason we call natural gas what we do has to do with history. There was a day that people made burnable gas by heating coal. The gases that came off the coal were piped around cities where they did things like light street lamps and even power cook stoves in homes.
Coal gas, as it was known, had its down side. For one thing, it often contained carbon monoxide. And it took energy to make the gas, so it never could be truly cheap.
Happily, geologists figured out that a gas from within the Earth would burn well. Because it came from Mother Nature rather than being manufactured by people, folks called the new energy source “natural gas.” In time, natural gas replaced coal gas.
Natural gas is mostly made up of what a chemist would call methane. Methane is made of a carbon atom bound to four hydrogen atoms. Methane itself is odorless. In order to help people detect leaks of natural gas, a scent is added to it. If you’ve even once sniffed treated natural gas, you remember the distinctive odor and you’ll know if a natural gas leak is occurring in your kitchen.
In recent years a lot more natural gas has come online in our country due to new mining methods including hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Fracking allows the extraction of natural gas and sometimes petroleum from rocks including shale. But now there is an even newer development that may add a lot more natural gas to what people can burn each year.
Some 50 miles out to sea, Japanese researchers and engineers have now liberated the main ingredient of natural gas from what’s called methane hydrates that lie on the seafloor. At a depth of over 3,000 feet, the Japanese tapped a vast reservoir of natural gas bound up in frozen water under high pressure on the seafloor. The hydrates are made of methane molecules trapped in ice. Some call the hydrates “ice that burns” or “fire ice” because you can ignite it with a match.
The United States Geological Survey has put out a fact sheet on the subject of methane hydrates. Total natural gas reserves are often measured in trillion cubic feet (or TCF for short). Worldwide the USGS reports that estimates of resources of conventional natural gas are about 13,000 TCF. It’s not so easy to estimate what methane hydrates on the seafloor and in permafrost may contain, but the USGS fact sheet gives this resource the range of 100,000 to almost 300,000,000 TCF. Not all of the gas may be extractable, but clearly the total amount of methane hydrates in the world is immense.
Another way of thinking about how large are the resources that methane hydrates represent is to consider how much carbon is in the ice crystals. The USGS states that the volume of carbon in methane hydrates is estimated to be twice the carbon contained in all types of fossil fuels the world around (including in coal).
The Japanese are particularly interested in methane hydrates off their shores because they don’t have other fossil fuels to exploit. They are therefore likely to lead the rest of the world in looking for ways to mine underwater methane hydrates.
Like other energy resources, there are serious questions about environmental tradeoffs involved in using a lot of methane hydrates to meet our energy needs. Methane that escapes from mining into the air is a powerful greenhouse gas, much more significant per molecule than carbon dioxide. And methane that’s corralled by us into pipelines and burned inexorably creates carbon dioxide, although in smaller quantities per unit of heat than what happens when we burn coal. Still, the large estimates of how much methane hydrates are available may mean the period of time we rely on fossil fuels for many of our energy needs will be considerably extended — and that has implications for our climate concerns.
One thing, I think, is certain: We’ll be hearing much more about the ice that burns in the future.
Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

Comments

E. Kirsten Peters

.

News

 
County’s chief lawyer: No Brown Act violation

By Chris Daley | From Page: A1

General Plan workshop today

By Chris Daley | From Page: A1

 
Two growth control initiatives get green light

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1

Sand Fire burns more than 4,000 acres

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
Fatal accident in Camino

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Agricultural Crop and Livestock Report released

By Ross Branch | From Page: A3

 
35 people displaced in Tahoe hotel fire

By Tahoe Tribune | From Page: A3 | Gallery

.

Opinion

The balancing act: Toxic waste spreads

By Larry Weitzman | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

 
Bee-ing silly

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
.

Letters

Letter to Speaker of the House

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 2 Comments

 
GDPUD misinformation

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

At the crossroads

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Want more water?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

Refugee crisis

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
.

Sports

Camp experience is ‘priceless’

By Mike Bush | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Speedway races cancelled

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

El Dorado doubles up on Pro Players

By Mike Bush | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Under the Scoreboard: July 26, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

Schedule: July 28 – Aug. 2, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

 
Roundup: July 26, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

Local spiker shines

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A7

 
Sports Scene: July 26, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A7

.

Prospecting

A beautiful day at Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony Farm

By Cathy Barsotti | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Foothill gourmet: Things get corny

By Donna Brown | From Page: B2

Bipolar Insights: From point A to point B

By Marcia Rose | From Page: B2

 
Cool time at Cowboys and Cornbread

By Democrat Staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

As we were: Recreation district grows

By Ken Deibert | From Page: B4

 
Cantare names new director

By Cantare Chorale | From Page: B10

 
After 5 Club to meet

By Senior Day | From Page: B10

.

Essentials

Divorces

By Charlotte Sanchez-Kosa | From Page: A2Comments are off for this post

 
DUI Log: June 25-July 9

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

Crime Log: July 14-16

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

 
.

Obituaries

.

Real Estate

.

Comics

Rubes

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
New York Times Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A8

TV Listings

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Speed Bump

By Contributor | From Page: A8

American Profile Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Tundra

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Horoscope, Tuesday, July 29, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Horoscope, Monday, July 28, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Shoe

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Sudoku

By Contributor | From Page: A8