Gas Policy : Conceptual Piracy ?

So, I’m talking with an oil and gas man. I can’t quite say who, or when or where, or indeed, which company he is working for. But he’s definitely a man, and working in the fossil fuel industry. So, I say, I suspect that within the major oil and gas companies there must be a plan about what to do after the shale gas and shale oil public relations bubble has run its course. When it becomes clear that they can never add much to global production, the decision will be about whether to run with sour conventional fossil fuel resources in provinces already well-explored, or go for sweet unconventionals in inaccessible, and formerly neglected, places. Iran could suddenly become our very best of friends, for example, or we could scramble for Africa. The option for sour conventional fossil fuels, he says, it depends on where it is. I assent.

There’s always mining for methane hydrates, he volunteers. In the Arctic. They’re already doing it in Japan, I agree, but it would be complicated, I counter, to go for deep drilling in areas with significant pack ice for many months of the year. Plus, global warming is strong in the Arctic, and conditions could change rapidly in ten years, and risk the infrastructure. It’s not a very good place to want to be drilling – the challenges of cold and ice, or meltwaters from ice in summer, and climate-changed shorelines. But there’s the permafrost, he said, implying that all the plant they will build will be stable. In my mind I’m asking myself – does he know the permafrost is melting ? There is a shallow ocean, I admit, with a lot of continental shelf at the right depth for stable clathrate formation. One could even pump carbon dioxide into the methane hydrates to release the methane by replacing it with carbon dioxide in the crystalline structure. Or so I’ve heard. Although it might be quite hard to collect the methane coming out. Mining methane hydrates would technically be possible, but it really depends on where it is. There are quite a number of territorial claims in the Arctic area. What is Russia claiming about the Arctic Ocean coast ?

Wouldn’t it just be easier and safer to mine sour conventionals ? Whichever route the oil and gas industry takes now, they will need to build a lot of new kit. If they choose remote sweet gas, they will need to build remote mining plant, pipelines and ship terminals. If they choose sour gas, they can then choose to methanate the Natural Carbon Dioxide that comes out of the wells as part of the Natural Gas. This would uprate the gas and so increase its value, and it wouldn’t be necessary to Capture the carbon dioxide for burial or reinjection. If the gas industry chooses to produce Renewable Hydrogen to enable methanation of acid fossil gas, they can then also be ready for the switch to a fully Renewable Gas without a second phase of building loads of new kit – and that would surely be a bonus ?

I said that I didn’t really believe in the narrative that significant volumes of methane could be mined cleanly or reliably from underwater hydrates. And that’s where our conversation came to an end.

I don’t believe that scrambling for the methane locked in undersea “fire ice” is an appropriately-scaled or workable plan. I wonder what the real plan is…and if the oil and gas industry haven’t got one, I wonder if the rest of us should help them ?

None of the pictures of alternative fuels painted by the oil and gas industry in the last decade have turned out to be meaningful. Let’s talk historical evidence. In oil, the “advanced biofuels” meme is pretty much exhausted, and production plateauing. Is anybody still promising large production volumes of algae biodiesel ? Can second-generation ethanol rise to the challenge of displacing big number percentages of petrodiesel ? Natural Gas Liquids and condensate from Natural Gas processing in the USA could well all be destined to be additives for thinning the bitumen from the oil sands in Canada – but will production ever be high ? Shale and tight oil production is growing overall in the United States of America, but there are disagreements about how significant it can become (and remain, given the likely depletion rates). In gas, the shale bubble could almost be at bursting point. Can we trust future projections ? I suppose it depends on who they come from.

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