Gas hydrates and the extreme energy age

If you needed proof we are in the post-peak oil, extreme energy age one need just look at where the Government is going for their next fix.

The Government has recently announced the first tranche of the MoBIE Science and Investment Round which included $3.2 million funding for gas hydrate exploration.

Gas hydrates, also called clathrates, are crystalline solid deposits of mostly methane that exist naturally on the ocean floor. Gas hydrates trap massive quantities of greenhouse gases in the cold, dark pressure of the ocean depths. New Zealand’s waters alone potentially contain hydrate deposits in the order of 20 trillion cubic feet. The US Geologic Survey estimate the worldwide amounts of carbon bound in gas hydrates is conservatively estimated to total twice the amount of carbon to be found in all known fossil fuels on Earth.

I can’t believe it. With all we know about climate change, with the disturbing news from the Arctic, it is outrageous the Government could consider resorting to this extreme step. The scientific community is extremely worried about the possible impact of hydrates naturally releasing GHGs as the world warms – we shouldn’t be speeding the process up by mining them. We already have identified enough recoverable fossil fuels to heat the planet more than two degrees without resorting to the extreme proposals like scrapping the ocean floor for gas hydrates, melting the tar-sands or underground coal gasification.

If New Zealand and other countries go down this path we will have almost no hope at avoiding runaway climate change.

But we have a choice. Imagine what we could achieve if the money, focus and support the Government is giving to drilling, mining and fracking was provided to clean energy?

9 Comments Posted

  1. OneTrack’s mind certainly lives up to his or her moniker, but even with that name forgets rail. There are lots of alternatives to flying than just riding a bike, including electrified rail. (It would be nice if more of the railway lines were electrified though.)

    If we get really desperate and haven’t or can’t electrify some sections of the railways, we could always stoke up the steam trains – they don’t burn oil. In fact, they can probably be adapted to burn wood.

    New Zealand was found and initially colonised by ships (and before them boats) that didn’t burn fossil fuels. We could use sails again if we had to, but we had better have some alternative motion power for ships carrying perishable cargoes!

    However OneTrack doesn’t seem to understand what “peak oil” means. In the near future, oil production will taper off further, but it will NOT plummet immediately. Oil will still be around for those that can afford it for quite a while yet – in fact it won’t really run out at all. Small amounts will still be able to be extracted for lubrication, etc for centuries to come – at a price. Eventually substitutes will cap the price and supply will drop to effectively nil.

    The final mistake that OneTrack has made is in assuming that all aircraft fuel is made from oil. Even discounting biofuels, aircraft have been successfully flown using natural gas and hydrogen, and more recently a solar aircraft has flown via Spain from Europe to Africa and back. I like the idea of natural gas powered planes because natural gas can be made from biomass, although there is enough available out of the ground to use for quite a while before we need that option.


  2. Investment in geothermal and wind power would allow us to conserve the gas that we do have for longer, and would also be a long term investment, with little risk. Add a bit of pumped hydro storage and beef up the hydro plants that we have already (i.e. increase their peak output capability) and intermittent renewables such as wind, solar, tidal and wave can do the rest. The result could be a long term reliable electricity system with nearly zero GHG emissions. (There will be some emissions from the geothermal plants for a while.)

    For pessimists like Mike, we can mothball Huntly and build up a stock of charcoal beside it for use if there is a major outage or an extremely dry year.


  3. Green MPs should show the country how to do it by refusing to fly up and down the country, and only travelling by push-bike. As you said, we are post peak oil so must stop using all oil immediately.

    As they say, actions speak louder than words.

  4. Mike,

    I’m not sure why you would think that the exploitation of methane hydrates would be done in a kind of altruistic way, to make our energy sources that little bit cleaner. It would be additional to all the fossil fuels we can get our hands on. It would be about extracting as much economic benefit as possible. But it would be at the risk of destabilising the hydrates and releasing it without burning or, at the very least, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere that we otherwise would.

  5. The only thing I disagree with is that “we have a choice”. I know hope springs eternal but there is no choice between economic growth and leaving a habitable planet for our kids and for other species. Economic growth wins every time, without exception. We will only realise the stupidity of what we’re doing when there is no chance of salvaging anything from this mess.

  6. There isn’t any excuse for it. I can’t imagine anyone in National having the slightest credibility on climate at this point. Nick Smith knows plenty but toes the party line with, if nothing else, a tolerance for cognitive dissonance that has to rank with Spencer’s. I still regard that some of them are functionally no different from any traitor who sells out his country for money. Key being first on that list.

    Nothing for the kids but misery, and then they inherit more misery.

  7. Gareth, I would rather use methane obtained from gas hydrates as an energy source then continue to burn coal. It should be a no brainer if we could wean off burning oil and coal, switching to a much cleaner fuel source.

    The ultimate goal would always be to use other technologies like wind, solar, geothermal, hydro; however it is not always possible to use these and Industry has to have 24 hr supply, something that is missing from a solar or wind solutions.

    Of course we can just ignore industry here in NZ, let them all move offshore to China, lots of dirty coal power stations there.

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