A cursory Western reader of news about Russia would find curious snippets with little context or explanation. “Russia plants flag on Arctic floor” from 2007 or “Vladimir Putin dives to bottom of world’s deepest lake” from 1st August 2009.
With the new streamlined Russian openness strategy, the information is not withheld, just dumbed-down, it seems. When reported in the Western press, it’s easy for further meaning to erode at this extra remove. But there is a story here. What are they up to ? Staking claims in the Arctic and mining for unconventional Hydrocarbon fuels underwater, that’s what.
Compare and contrast the following two Internet reports :-
NO MENTION OF METHANE GAS HYDRATE EXPLORATION
“Vladimir Putin dives to bottom of world’s deepest lake : AFP : August 02, 2009 : RUSSIAN Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has dived to the bottom of the world’s deepest lake aboard a mini-submarine, in a media stunt unusual even by the standards of the Russian hardman. Putin, wearing special thermal blue overalls, was able to examine the unique flora and fauna of Lake Baikal in Siberia during his four-hour journey underwater aboard the Mir-1 submarine. “I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life,” the prime minister, who served eight years as Russian president, told state television aboard the support ship after resurfacing on Saturday. “It’s a special feeling. What I saw impressed me because with my own eyes I could see how Baikal is, in all its grandeur, in all its greatness,” he added. The lake’s mythological beauty has always held a special place in the heart of Russians and is its fresh waters are home to a variety of endemic species, most notably the Baikal seal…”
MENTION OF METHANE GAS HYDRATE EXPLORATION
“Russia’s Putin inspects crystals in deepest lake : 01 Aug 2009 : Source: Reuters : By Gleb Bryanski : LAKE BAIKAL, Russia, Aug 1 (Reuters) – Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin plunged into the depths of Lake Baikal aboard a mini-submersible on Saturday in a mission that adds a new dimension to his macho image. Putin, a judo black belt who has flown in a fighter aircraft and shot a Siberian tiger in the wild, descended 1,400 metres (4,600 ft) below the surface of the world’s deepest lake to inspect potentially valuable gas crystals. “I haven’t seen anything like that in my whole life. This is a very special feeling,” Putin told reporters on emerging from the deep-sea craft looking pale and a bit dizzy after spending more than 4.5 hours underwater…Hidden on Lake Baikal’s largely unexplored floor are large deposits of clathrate hydrate, crystals packed with one of Russia’s most lucrative exports: natural gas. Scientists estimate Baikal hydrates contain over 1 trillion cubic metres of natural gas, an amount comparable with the world’s largest discovered gas fields…”
Why should the Russian leader be wanting to strut his manly stuff in the field of diving for deep gas ? And what’s out there, anyway ?
“Arctic Meltdown : …Ironically, the great melt is likely to yield more of the very commodities that precipitated it: fossil fuels. As oil prices exceed $100 a barrel, geologists are scrambling to determine exactly how much oil and gas lies beneath the melting icecap. More is known about the surface of Mars than about the Arctic Ocean’s deep, but early returns indicate that the Arctic could hold the last remaining undiscovered hydrocarbon resources on earth. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Norwegian company StatoilHydro estimate that the Arctic holds as much as one-quarter of the world’s remaining undiscovered oil and gas deposits. Some Arctic wildcatters believe this estimate could increase substantially as more is learned about the region’s geology. The Arctic Ocean’s long, outstretched continental shelf is another indication of the potential for commercially accessible offshore oil and gas resources. And, much to their chagrin, climate-change scientists have recently found material in ice-core samples suggesting that the Arctic once hosted all kinds of organic material that, after cooking under intense seabed pressure for millennia, would likely produce vast storehouses of fossil fuels. The largest deposits are found in the Arctic off the coast of Russia…”
“Arctic Meltdown : The Economic and Security Implications of Global Warming : Scott G. Borgerson : March/April 2008 : Summary — Thanks to global warming, the Arctic icecap is rapidly melting, opening up access to massive natural resources and creating shipping shortcuts that could save billions of dollars a year. But there are currently no clear rules governing this economically and strategically vital region. Unless Washington leads the way toward a multilateral diplomatic solution, the Arctic could descend into armed conflict…The Arctic is rich in natural resources and lies at the epicenter of a rapidly changing climate — and it is time the United States paid more attention to the region. The Arctic Ocean is melting, and it is melting fast. This past summer, the area covered by sea ice shrank by more than one million square miles, reducing the Arctic icecap to only half the size it was 50 years ago. For the first time, the Northwest Passage — a fabled sea route to Asia that European explorers sought in vain for centuries — opened for shipping. Even if the international community manages to slow the pace of climate change immediately and dramatically, a certain amount of warming is irreversible. It is no longer a matter of if, but when, the Arctic Ocean will open to regular marine transportation and exploration of its lucrative natural-resource deposits. Global warming has given birth to a new scramble for territory and resources among the five Arctic powers. Russia was the first to stake its claim in this great Arctic gold rush, in 2001. Moscow submitted a claim to the United Nations for 460,000 square miles of resource-rich Arctic waters, an area roughly the size of the states of California, Indiana, and Texas combined. The UN rejected this ambitious annexation, but last August the Kremlin nevertheless dispatched a nuclear-powered icebreaker and two submarines to plant its flag on the North Pole’s sea floor. Days later, the Russians provocatively ordered strategic bomber flights over the Arctic Ocean for the first time since the Cold War. Not to be outdone, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced funding for new Arctic naval patrol vessels, a new deep-water port, and a cold-weather training center along the Northwest Passage. Denmark and Norway, which control Greenland and the Svalbard Islands, respectively, are also anxious to establish their claims… [ SCOTT G. BORGERSON is International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard. ]”
“Sat August 4, 2007 : Russia plants flag on Arctic floor : MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) — Russian explorers have dived deep below the North Pole in a submersible and planted their national flag on the seabed to stake a symbolic claim to the energy riches of the Arctic. The Akademik Fedorov research ship carried about 100 scientists to the region. A mechanical arm on Thursday dropped a specially made, rust-proof titanium flag painted with the Russian tricolor on to the Arctic seabed at a depth of 4,261 meters (13,980 feet). “It was so lovely down there,” Itar-Tass news agency quoted expedition leader Artur Chilingarov as saying as he emerged from one of two submersibles that made the dive. “If a hundred or a thousand years from now someone goes down to where we were, they will see the Russian flag,” said Chilingarov, 67, a top pro-Kremlin member of parliament. Russia wants to extend right up to the North Pole the territory it controls in the Arctic, believed to hold vast reserves of untapped oil and natural gas, which is expected to become more accessible as climate change melts the ice. President Vladimir Putin congratulated the expedition by telephone on “the outstanding scientific project,” local agencies reported…”
Estimates of ultimate recoverable Fossil Fuels are shrinking, Petroleum Oil, Coal and conventional Natural Gas, and some heave a sigh of relief : Global Warming is not going to be such a problem after all. Phew !
Yes, the Tar Sands are a problem, but they’re so energy-intensive to mine they will soon become uneconomical to exploit.
All this talk of Peaks in Conventionals make some panic, while others get all authoritarian.
“Britain’s energy crisis : How long till the lights go out?…” asks The Economist in all serious gravitas-ness :-
“Brown out; then come the brownouts : With gas too risky, coal too dirty, nuclear too slow and renewables too unreliable, Britain is in a bind. What can it do to get out of it? ”
But if there’s only a small amount of crude and Uranium and we use that all up in the next 50 years, what do we do for Energy after that ?
Could we survive the Climate Change from Peak Conventionals only to succumb to a brand new shock of Carbon Emissions from Deep Sea Gas ?
There appears to be a new Energy race going on. Vladmir Putin is obviously reacting to something when he climbs on a submersible. He doesn’t do these things just for the fun of it. And it’s not just Public Relations, either.
http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/22756/?nlid=2086 “Mining “Ice That Burns” : Newly discovered methane hydrate reserves deep in the ocean show promise for mining. By Christopher Mims : Monday, June 08, 2009 : Trapped in molecular cages resembling ice, at the bottom of the ocean and in terrestrial permafrost all over the world, is a supply of natural gas that, by conservative estimates, is equivalent to twice the amount of energy contained in all other fossil fuels remaining in the earth’s crust. The question has been whether or not this enormous reserve of energy, known as methane hydrates, existed in nature in a form that was worth pursuing, and whether or not the technology existed to harvest it. Last Friday, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) announced the discovery of suitable conditions for mining methane hydrates 1,000 meters beneath the seabed in the Gulf of Mexico. Together with Chevron and the U.S. Department of Energy, the USGS discovered the reserve of hydrates in high concentrations in 15-to-30-meter-thick beds of sand–conditions very much like terrestrial methane hydrate reserves, which have already yielded commercially useful flow rates. These deposits are substantially different from the gas hydrates that have previously been discovered in U.S. coastal waters, which exist in relatively shallow waters at the surface of the seabed and have become a concern for climate scientists because of their potential to melt rapidly and release large quantities of methane into the atmosphere. In the spring of 2008, a joint Canadian-Japanese expedition in Mallik in the Northwest Territories, Canada, established that methane hydrates could be harvested by using a water pump to depressurize a well already drilled into the reserve. This involved lowering the pressure by pumping out the water that naturally accumulates in the well. Crucially, it required only 10 to 15 percent of the energy represented by the gas that flowed out of the well, making it a much more viable approach than earlier methods used to harvest hydrates, which involved melting them with warm water. Hydrates require both cold temperatures and high pressure to form; eliminating either condition frees the gas from its icy cage, but past attempts to do this by heating the hydrates proved prohibitively difficult. The Canadian-Japanese expedition successfully produced up to 4,000 cubic meters of gas a day during a six-day trial in 2008 using depressurization. “I think [the Gulf of Mexico find] and Mallik are two revolutionary events,” says Timothy Collett, a geologist with the USGS and one of the world’s foremost authorities on gas hydrates. While no one believes that all of the world’s methane hydrates will be recoverable, the scale of global reserves has been described by the U.S. Department of Energy as “staggering.” They occur anywhere that water, methane, low temperatures, and high pressure co-occur–in other words, in the 23 percent of the world’s land area covered by permafrost and at the bottom of the ocean, particularly the continental shelf. Increased interest in naturally occurring methane hydrates has been driven by the desire for energy independence from the Middle East and Russia and by the need to find energy sources with less of a potential impact on the climate than coal. (Natural gas produces half as much carbon as coal per unit of energy.) This is reflected by an exponential growth in the number of scientific papers published on the subject per year, according to Carolyn Koh, codirector of the Center for Hydrate Research at the Colorado School of Mines. More than a dozen expeditions designed to harvest or sample terrestrial and marine hydrate reserves have been launched since 2001, not only in the United States and Canada, but also in Japan, Korea, China, and India, according to Collett. While the USGS has not yet calculated the total size of the potential methane hydrate reserve in the Gulf of Mexico, Collett and his colleagues have calculated the scale of another much more accessible reserve where they hope to perfect the technology required for long-term production of methane hydrates: Alaska’s North Slope. The North Slope is already home to a great deal of conventional oil and natural gas extraction (it’s the northern terminus of the trans-Alaska pipeline), and it is, not coincidentally, just a few hundred miles west of Mallik.”
“Large gas hydrate reservoir discovered in Gulf of Mexico : 8 June 2009—The U.S. Gulf of Mexico contains very thick and concentrated gas-hydrate-bearing reservoir rocks which have the potential to produce gas using current technology. Recent drilling by a government and industry consortium confirm that the Gulf of Mexico is the first offshore area in the United States with enough information to identify gas hydrate energy resource targets with potential for gas production. Gas hydrate, a substance comprised of natural gas and water, is thought to exist in great abundance in nature and has the potential to be a significant new energy source to meet future energy needs. However, prior to this expedition, there was little documentation that gas hydrate occurred in resource-quality accumulations in the marine environment. “This is an exciting discovery because for the first time in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, we were able to predict hydrate accumulations before drilling, and we discovered thick, gas hydrate-saturated sands that actually represent energy targets,” said U.S. Geological Survey Energy Program Coordinator Brenda Pierce. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS), and a group of U.S. and international energy industry companies under the management of Chevron were responsible for conducting this first ever drilling project with the goal to collect geologic data on gas-hydrate-bearing sand reservoirs in the Gulf of Mexico. “We have also found gas hydrate in a range of settings, including sand reservoirs, thick sequences of fracture-filling gas hydrates in shales, and potential partially saturated gas hydrates in younger systems,” said USGS Scientist Timothy Collett. “These sites should provide a wealth of opportunities for further study and data collection that should provide significant advances in understanding the nature and development of gas hydrate systems.”…”
“Title : Estimates of Worldwide Gas Hydrate Resources : Authors Ian Lerche, University of South Carolina : Source : Offshore Technology Conference, 30 April-3 May 2001, Houston, Texas : Gas hydrates have been touted as the next generation of energy resources exploitable for commercial gain and anthropogenic use. It would then seem relevant to estimate the potential resources available in order that one has an appreciation of availability. Several such estimates have been made over the years for both onshore and offshore gas hydrates. This paper examines the relative percentages and the ranges of uncertainty for both the onshore and offshore estimates. In addition, the estimated resources are plotted versus the year in which the estimate was made to see if any convergence of results is being achieved with time as more data become available. The main conclusions are that there seems not to be any systematic pattern of convergence of resource estimates with time, nor does there seem to be any narrowing of the uncertainty of the estimates for either onshore or offshore resource estimates as more data have become available over the last twenty years. It would seem that a concerted effort is needed to improve estimates if there is to be any hope of assessing the commercial worth of hydrate resources and of deciding whether hydrates really do represent a significant exploitable energy resource on a worldwide basis…”
“ENERGY : Natural gas : Methane hydrates: Energy’s most dangerous game : Last Updated: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 : By William Pentland Forbes : All the energy America needs for the next 100 years lies under the sea off the coast of South Carolina. One problem: Digging it out could cause a global climate disaster. Welcome to the final frontier in fossil fuels, the wild card in climate change theories and the dark horse in the scramble to secure access to clean energy. Meet methane hydrates, the world’s most promising and perilous energy resource. Methane is the principal component of natural gas, and massive amounts of it are trapped in reservoirs beneath the sea floor and under a layer of the ice-like substance. The scale of the resource is spectacular. By some estimates, methane hydrates contain more energy content than all other known fossil fuels combined. Two small areas located roughly 200 miles off the coast of Charleston, S.C., contain enough methane to meet the country’s gas needs for more than a century. And this is only one of at least two dozen similar reservoirs discovered in U.S. coastal waters since the early 1970s. Disaster waiting to happen? The paradox is that while gas can be extracted from methane hydrates, doing so poses potentially catastrophic risks. Methane hydrates are frozen water molecules that trap methane gas molecules in a crystalline, lattice-like structure known as a hydrate. Unlike normal ice, hydrate ice literally burns — light a match and it goes up in flames. As temperatures rise or pressure rates fall, the hydrate disintegrates and the water releases the gas. A substantial amount of evidence suggests that weakening the lattice-like structure of gas hydrates has triggered underwater landslides on the continental margin. In other words, the extraction process, if done improperly, could cause sudden disruptions on the ocean floor, reducing ocean pressure rates and releasing methane gas from hydrates. A mass release of methane into the sea and atmosphere could have catastrophic consequences on the pace of climate change. More than 50 million years ago, undersea landslides resulted in the release of methane gas from methane hydrate, which contributed to global warming that lasted tens of thousands of years. “Methane hydrate was a key cause of the global warming that led to one of the largest extinctions in the earth’s history,” Ryo Matsumoto, a professor at the University of Tokyo who has spent 20 years researching the subject, told Bloomberg in December. But given its potential, the race is on to figure out how to safely exploit this resource. Timothy Collett, a research geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, has estimated that there could be as much as 317 quadrillion cubic feet of methane gas stored in hydrates in the U.S. To put this in perspective, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the country has 187 trillion cubic ft of natural gas reserves. Needless to say, the potential value of gas hydrates as a less-polluting and more secure supply of energy is immense. Major government research initiatives have been launched in China, India, Germany, Norway, Russia, Taiwan and several other countries. The Japanese government has estimated that producing gas from methane hydrates is commercially viable when oil prices rise above $54 a barrel. In 2003, an international consortium that included Japan, Canada, the U.S., India and Germany produced natural gas from methane hydrates in the Mackenzie Delta in Canada’s Northwest Territories. To date, Japan has made the biggest bet on methane hydrates and appears to be the closest to commercial production. Since 2000, Japan has drilled nearly three dozen exploratory well holes in the Nankai Trough. Roughly 30 miles off the coast of Honshu Island in the Pacific Ocean, the Nankai Trough holds an estimated 40 trillion cubic feet of gas hydrates and has received the largest investment and advanced field research of any project in the world…”
What to believe ?
“Oil will run out so we have to embrace new energy sources : Peter Hartcher : August 8, 2009 : As ships get lost in fog and socks vanish into the wash, so clarity disappears in Canberra. Next week will be a prime illustration. Our national capital will be convulsed by argument over the Government’s plan to address climate change. It will sound complex. Politicians will become angry. Arguments will become convoluted. But don’t be put off. Despite all appearances, the reasons that Australia must – and will – adopt the plan are very simple. You don’t even need to believe in climate change to see the logic. First, the world is running out of oil, the source of 80 per cent of all world energy. Smart countries will start preparing for this now. Dumb countries will keep postponing the adjustment. We can’t foresee the precise day and the hour when we squeeze the final drop out of the planet. But we have some educated guesses. The International Energy Agency, a specialist research body set up by 28 of the governments of the world’s rich countries, calculates that the known reserves of oil will run dry in about 40 years at current rates of consumption. More speculatively, it might be possible to extract another 60 years’ supply from oil reserves which are not fully proven or yet discovered, the agency estimates. These estimates are not realistic. They are based on current rates of consumption, when we can see that the long-run rate of consumption is actually going up. The big oil cartel OPEC predicts that world demand for oil will rise by about 40 per cent over the next 20 years in the absence of major policy change. This, of course, would bring forward the day of reckoning. So there is plenty of room for error and uncertainty in forecasting. There is only one certainty: “One day, we will run out of oil, it is not today or tomorrow, but one day we will run out of oil and we have to leave oil before oil leaves us,” the IEA’s chief economist and formerly an economist with OPEC, Dr Fatih Birol, said this week. “The earlier we start, the better, because all our economic and social system is based on oil, so to change from that will take a lot of time and money,” he told a British newspaper, The Independent. This is simple common sense. Smart countries will start the adjustment now…”
“Renewable Energy News : THURSDAY 06 AUGUST, 2009 : Global Peak Oil In 10 Years – IEA Sounds Alarm : by Energy Matters : Global peak oil rapidly approaching : In an interview with the UK’s The Independent, Dr Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA), sounded an alarm that global oil production is likely to peak in around 10 years; far earlier than most governments had foreseen. The International Energy Agency is an intergovernmental organisation which acts as energy policy advisor to 28 member countries, including Australia. According to the first detailed assessment of hundreds of oil fields around the world representing 75% of global reserves, the biggest fields have already peaked a and the rate of decline in oil production is now running at close to double calculations of a couple of years ago. The IEA believes the decline in oil production in existing fields is now around 6.7 per cent a year compared to the 3.7 per cent decline estimate of 2007. Dr. Birol stated in the interview that even if demand for oil were to remain steady, the equivalent of four Saudi Arabias would need to be discovered to maintain production – an unlikely development. The shortage of easily accessed oil is fueling fears other methods of oil extraction will increase, such as those used in Canada’s tar sands operations. This not only means an environmental disaster for such areas through the stripping large swathes of forest and poisoning the land, but extraction of oil from tar sands is extremely water and energy intensive, meaning even more generation of greenhouse gas emissions. Dr. Birol warns that governments are not prepared for the rapidly approaching oil crunch and environmental groups believe the situation should create an even higher sense of urgency within governments to switch to clean and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. With some forecasting oil to skyrocket to hundreds of dollars a barrel, renewable energy will not only provide a greener and cleaner option, but a cheaper one. While governments may be somewhat oblivious to the looming oil crisis, and one unlike others there will no rebound from, executives in the oil industry aren’t – a survey run last year found only 23 percent believed that oil will still be the cheapest source of energy 25 years from now; representing a massive 48 percent drop over the previous survey.”
“Bordering on Chaos: Climate change melts lines drawn in ice : Posted 10:58 PM on 27 Jul 2009 : by Geoffrey Lean : …The next few years are “critical in determining whether the Arctic’s long-term future will be one of international harmony and the rule of law, or a Hobbesian free-for-all with dangerous political conflict,” Dr. Scott G. Borgerson of the Council for Foreign Relations told a Senate committee in May…”