Climate Change Emissions Impossible Methane Madness Methane Management

Carbon Dioxide is not the only Greenhouse Gas

The Global Warming Potential, or GWP, of various substances in the atmosphere is an indication as to how much extra heat it will make the Earth system retain from the Sun’s light falling on it.

The effect of the basket of Greenhouse Gases has to be added to that of soot and other particles and aerosols in the air above us; something which Al Gore neatly summarises as “Global Warming Pollution”, another GWP, confusingly.

I’m going to call Global Warming Potential “GWPot”, and Global Warming Pollution “GWPol”.

The blanket, ovecoat, effect of GWPol is not something that reverses instantly you remove the gases and dust from the air. A human example that makes it obvious : it takes time to cool down after running for the bus.

Even when you get on the bus, if you keep your coat on when you drop into your seat gasping, then you stay hot. It could take (tens/hundreds of) thousands of years for some of the Global Warming that’s currently going on to dissipate.

Plus, some of the GWPol stays up in the sky for a very long while. Carbon Dioxide is expected to float around for somewhere between 500 and 2000 years before dribbling off into space, or getting sucked into trees. So it’s going to be influencing additional heating for a long time to come.

That means that the long-term impact of Carbon Dioxide is very significant. But Carbon Dioxide is not the only Greenhouse Gas. And if we could avoid some of the warming from short-lived Greenhouse Gases, then we would give ourselves a chance to beat this Global Warming thing.

Some of the Energy research scientists and engineers are saying that there’s not enough Fossil Fuels in “them there hills” to trigger dangerous Climate Change. If you look solely at Carbon Dioxide, as they do, and its effect on trapping certain wavelengths of sunlight, then the GWPot is roughly 1.0 degree Celsius, Centigrade or Kelvin, depending on your inclination.

But, again, Carbon Dioxide is not the only Greenhouse Gas. And modelling of the whole Earth system shows that there are a number of things that happen as a result of the Global Warming caused by all the GWPol, and that these side-effects would also have GWPot in themselves.

When you tot up all the GWPot from all the forms of GWPol, the currently accepted range of projected temperature rise is somewhere between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees C above pre-industrial temperatures, by the year 2100, across a range of six future scenarios, according to the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

We are already seeing large effects in the “living shell” Earth habitat from a 0.8 degree C rise since 1880, and so even a small increase from now on could be devastating.

The differences in the scenarios that the IPCC considered are based on differing projections of the management of GWPol, including the overt control of the burning of Fossil Fuels.

One of the risks clear from these scenarios is that any additional Fossil Fuel burning beyond what is necessary could add greatly to possible temperature rise.

And so it is disturbing to learn that there are serious plans afoot around the world to mine for Methane Gas Hydrates – Methane in a kind of limbo in different formations under the sea, or in deep lakes or in permafrost regions of the Tundra in the Arctic.

“Ice on fire: The next fossil fuel : 24 June 2009 by Fred Pearce : Magazine issue 2714 : DEEP in the Arctic Circle, in the Messoyakha gas field of western Siberia, lies a mystery. Back in 1970, Russian engineers began pumping natural gas from beneath the permafrost and piping it east across the tundra to the Norilsk metal smelter, the biggest industrial enterprise in the Arctic. By the late 70s, they were on the brink of winding down the operation. According to their surveys, they had sapped nearly all the methane from the deposit. But despite their estimates, the gas just kept on coming. The field continues to power Norilsk today. Where is this methane coming from? The Soviet geologists initially thought it was leaking from another deposit hidden beneath the first. But their experiments revealed the opposite – the mystery methane is seeping into the well from the icy permafrost above. If unintentionally, what they had achieved was the first, and so far only, successful exploitation of methane clathrate. Made of molecules of methane trapped within ice crystals, this stuff looks like dirty ice and has the consistency of sorbet. Touch it with a lit match, though, and it bursts into flames. Clathrates are rapidly gaining favour as an answer to the energy crisis. Burning methane emits only half as much carbon dioxide as burning coal, and many countries are seeing clathrates as a quick and easy way of reducing carbon emissions. Others question whether that is wise, and are worried that extracting clathrates at all could have unforeseen and perilous side effects. If countries and companies are exploring the potential of clathrates only now, that’s not for lack of scientific interest over the years. Research over the past two decades has shown that the energy trapped in ice within the permafrost and under the sea rivals that in all oil, coal and conventional gas fields, and could power the world for centuries to come. Oil and gas companies have been slow to catch on, however, believing methane clathrates to be unreliable and uneconomical. Feasibility studies and the diminishing supplies of conventional natural gas are changing that, making commercially viable production realistic within a decade, says Ray Boswell, who heads the clathrates programme at the US Department of Energy. “Just a few years ago no one was thinking about clathrates as an energy source,” Boswell says. “Now there is a great deal of interest in them.” ..”

There is a great deal of discussion about current Methane emissions from Fossil Fuel exploitation and agriculture, and how to control them :-

“Methane controls before risky geoengineering, please : 25 June 2009 by Kirk Smith : Magazine issue 2714 : WHEN the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change came into force in 1994, climate change’s impacts seemed distant. Not any more. With daily reports of changes to glaciers, ice sheets, oceans and ecological systems, climate change seems upon us. As a result, the debate over what to do is changing. Geoengineering schemes, once considered nearly science fiction, are now discussed seriously. Most attention, though, has focused on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide. There is no question that to stop climate change in the long run requires a substantial reduction in CO2 emissions. However, significant opportunities exist to slow warming over the next few decades by reducing emissions of other greenhouse gases…Recent modelling shows the way to have the biggest impact on warming over this century is to immediately reduce emission of these gases, and keep them low (International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, vol 1, p 42). Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. A tonne of methane is responsible for nearly 100 times more warming over the first five years of its lifetime in the atmosphere than a tonne of CO2…More serious attention to methane would also change the terms of climate change negotiations, possibly for the better…Why, then, are methane and the other non-CO2 greenhouse gases not more prominent in discussions over global warming? …Reducing methane levels in the atmosphere would arguably be less painful than reducing CO2. The technology already exists, and reductions would be politically and economically easier to implement. Methane is also easier to handle in international negotiations than black carbon, the next most important non-CO2 greenhouse pollutant, because its impacts are better understood. Global methane emissions are divided roughly equally between the energy sector (coal mine emissions and leaks from oil and gas wells), waste management (landfill, waste water and animal manure) and agriculture (mainly rice paddies and emissions from livestock). Reducing livestock and rice production would require changes in consumption, but that is not the case with waste handling and leaks from fossil-fuel systems. Fixes for these do not directly threaten lifestyles and are amenable to direct regulation; no need for controversial carbon taxes or cap-and-trade schemes. We urgently need measures that can help keep Earth from overheating while we work to control CO2 emissions. Doing all we can to reduce methane emissions makes more sense than embarking on risky geoengineering schemes. This fruit is low-hanging, ripe and heavy with immediate benefits. Helping to pick it also means I can tell my grandchildren that, yes, I did do something to directly protect the planet. [ Kirk Smith is professor of global environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley ]”

Although in the long-term controlling Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is gravely important, Methane (CH4), Ozone (O3) and Nitrous Oxide (N2O) are so significant, that special measures to control these alone would help enormously in the struggle over the next few decades to avoid overheating the planet, and could form the basis of the international agreements on Climate :-

“Global warming in the twenty-first century: An alternative scenario : Abstract : A common view is that the current global warming rate will continue or accelerate. But we argue that rapid warming in recent decades has been driven mainly by non-CO2 greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as chlorofluorocarbons, CH4, and N2O, not by the products of fossil fuel burning, CO2 and aerosols, the positive and negative climate forcings of which are partially offsetting. The growth rate of non-CO2 GHGs has declined in the past decade. If sources of CH4 and O3 precursors were reduced in the future, the change in climate forcing by non-CO2 GHGs in the next 50 years could be near zero. Combined with a reduction of black carbon emissions and plausible success in slowing CO2 emissions, this reduction of non-CO2 GHGs could lead to a decline in the rate of global warming, reducing the danger of dramatic climate change. Such a focus on air pollution has practical benefits that unite the interests of developed and developing countries. However, assessment of ongoing and future climate change requires composition-specific long-term global monitoring of aerosol properties.”

The Methane Option : Jamais Cascio, 23 Nov 04 : WorldChanging reader John Atkinson alerts us to an article in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences entitled “Greenhouse Gas Growth Rates” — a fairly innocuous title for what could be a very important bit of research. In this article (which PNAS has made Open Access, Drs. James Hansen and Makiko Sato of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Earth Institute at Columbia University show that reducing methane (CH4) in combination with reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would be both more feasible and more effective as a means of keeping global warming to 1-2°C over this century than reductions in either alone…”

“Lifetime-leveraging: An approach to achieving international agreement and effective climate protection using mitigation of short-lived greenhouse gases : Frances C. Moore, Michael C. MacCracken : Journal : International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management : 2009 : Volume : 1 : Page : 42 – 62 : Acknowledgements : Thanks to Steve Smith and Navin Ramankutty for providing emissions data used for modeling. Thanks also to Nina Rinnerberger, Ivan Valencia, Bhuwan Thapa, Takanobu Terada, Claudia Vinay, and Lars Christiansen for valuable suggestions on the policy aspects of this proposal and for their comments on the draft. Abstract : Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to suggest an approach to post-Kyoto climate negotiations that could provide a way out of the apparent deadlock between developed and developing countries. This is an urgent issue as the world already appears to be close to a level of climate change that could be considered “dangerous”. Design/methodology/approach – The paper explores the potential that control of short-lived greenhouse gases such as methane, tropospheric ozone, and soot could have, in addition to steep cutbacks in industrialized nations, to both mitigate global warming and overcome political stalemate in the international climate negotiations. Findings – Although rarely mentioned in climate discourse, reducing emissions of short-lived greenhouse gases offers a cost-effective way of actually reducing the radiative forcing in the atmosphere, while at the same time producing substantial subsidiary benefits such as improved urban air quality. The paper suggests leveraging this potential in the post-Kyoto treaty in order to “buy time” to address the arguably more difficult problem of essentially eliminating fossil-fuel related CO2 emissions, which will ultimately be required to truly bring climate change under control. While high-income countries work on steep cutbacks of all greenhouse gas emissions, middle-income nations could make significant additional contributions by undertaking commitments to control only short-lived greenhouse gases until they reached a threshold level of per-capita GDP, at which point they would cap and begin reducing all greenhouse gas emissions. Originality/value – This paper recognizes that political tradeoffs will have to be made in negotiating the next climate treaty, and offers a way of approaching these tradeoffs that could minimize resulting environmental damage.

“Methane – A Ticking Bomb : Methane is number two among the man-made climate warmers worldwide. Its concentration in the atmosphere has increased threefold since the industrial revolution. But with more warming, the worst could still be to come. publishing date: November 27, 2008…”

Some things we could do to stop Methane (and Carbon Dioxide) emissions

1a. Cap Natural Gas venting
Simple – though costly : capping the Natural Gas (about 80% to 85% Methane) venting in Nigeria, and using it for fuel could prevent rapid short-term Global Warming from Methane, by burning it to Carbon Dioxide (a slower-acting Greenhouse Gas).

1b. Cap Natural Gas flaring
Simple – though costly : capping the Natural Gas (about 80% to 85% Methane) flaring in Nigeria, and using it for fuel could prevent more Natural Gas having to be extracted elsewhere for fuel (and thereby prevent further Carbon Dioxide emissions).

2. Closing the Coal Mines
Some good proportion of Natural Gas and Methane come from Coal Mines, either of its own accord, or by an “enhanced” process. Recognising that we cannot continue to use Coal into the future as a fuel, we should shut all the Coal Mines, and thereby prevent Methane emissions from them.

3. Biogas production
Instead of extracting Natural Gas from oil wells and other underground cavities for fuel, use all the animal and human natural wastes to make Methane by the process of “anerobic digestion” – rotting in a closed container. This Methane would be diverted from venting into the air as it would be piped to be used as fuel instead of Natural Gas.

4. Burying wood
Burying large quantities of agricultural and forestry waste to depths or rock formations where it could not rot, or only rot slowly, where the gases would stay pretty much trapped, would prevent Methane from entering the atmosphere :-

It is rather worrying that talk of drilling for Methane Hydrate is on the agenda. It would be a whole new set of Fossil Fuel reserves, adding to the projections for Carbon Dioxide emissions to air.

“Methane hydrates could be new energy target : Monday, June 8, 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 U.S. 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.””

Not only would this new industry create a vast new source of Carbon Dioxide from its extraction for burning as fuel.

It could also trigger upwellings of Methane local to the mining, directly into the atmosphere :-

“Even if you can situate a rig safely, methane hydrate is unstable once it’s removed from the high pressures and low temperatures of the deep sea. Methane begins to escape even as it’s being transported to the surface. Unless there’s a way to prevent this leakage of natural gas, extraction won’t be efficient. It will be a bit like hauling up well water using a pail riddled with holes. Believe it or not, this leakage may be the least of the worries. Many geologists suspect that gas hydrates play an important role in stabilizing the seafloor. Drilling in these oceanic deposits could destabilize the seabed, causing vast swaths of sediment to slide for miles down the continental slope. Evidence suggests that such underwater landslides have occurred in the past, with devastating consequences. The movement of so much sediment would certainly trigger massive tsunamis similar to those seen in the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. But perhaps the biggest concern is how methane hydrate mining could affect global warming. Scientists already know that hydrate deposits naturally release small amounts of methane…”

“…A chunk of methane ice exposed to the air and ignited will burn until all of the methane in that ice has been consumed. Methane hydrates, however, require specific conditions of temperature and pressure to keep them contained within their ice cage. Reduce the pressure – for example, by reducing the sea level and the pressure of water above the deposit – or increased the temperature and the methane hydrate deposit becomes unstable and begins to release the trapped methane into the atmosphere. That is a problem. Methane is a greenhouse gas. In fact, it is 21-23 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. When the methane trapped in the hydrate is released it expands by about 170 times. Methane is lighter than CO2, lighter than air. As a result it rises rapidly through the atmosphere up to the lower-density stratosphere. On the positive side methane remains in the atmosphere for only about 10-20 years. CO2 remains in the atmosphere for over 100 years. Scientists studying global warming have long been seriously concerned about the possibility of large scale methane hydrate destabilization and methane release into the atmosphere. The greatest concern is about the large volumes of methane hydrates under the Arctic sea floor and that trapped in the vast permafrost zone surrounding the Arctic Ocean. That concern has now been heightened by recent discoveries of hundreds of methane plumes on the floor of the Arctic Ocean north of Norway and Siberia. There is also evidence in pock-marked sea floors of large releases of methane plumes in the geological past…There are various technologies under consideration for extracting methane from hydrate deposits. Most involve some form of heating the hydrate deposits – one, probably the dumbest and most dangerous, even goes so far as to suggest using nuclear explosions beneath the deposit to heat it, also suggested by some as a means of releasing oil from tar sands and oil shale – causing them to release the methane which is then collected and piped to a processing facility of holding tank. Proponents of methane hydrate exploitation, conscious of environmental concerns, are quick to offer reassurances like “…tapping into the gas hydrates assessed in the study is not expected to affect global warming, said Brenda Pierce, coordinator for the USGS Energy Resources Program.” The louder and more frequent such reassurances are, of course, the more it suggests they are trying to cover up the probability that the result will be the opposite…”

“March 15, 2005 : Mining the Oceans’ Natural Gas : By Katrina C. Arabe : Below the ocean floor lies a vast reserve of frozen natural gas–200,000 trillion cubic feet, geologists estimate. The big question is–could this be the clean and abundant fuel source we’ve been searching for? Since the 1970s, researchers have been intrigued by methane hydrates, mysterious deposits of natural gas that hold promise as a sustainable energy resource. The problem was that very little was known about these crystalline solids–where they could be found, how plentiful they were, and how to extract them. As a result, their true potential remained shrouded in mystery. Not anymore. According to a February 2005 Mechanical Engineering magazine article, dedicated research programs in the U.S. and around the world are uncovering many answers. Encouragingly, they suggest that the “commercial production of methane from hydrate may now be just around the corner,” says the article. It reports that through field studies in places such as the waters off Oregon, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Alaskan North Slope, it’s become evident that tapping into the methane in these solids is both “technically feasible and economically viable.” And it can be done with current technologies. In fact, in Alaska, geologists are already plotting out ways to commercially produce methane from the hydrates they have spotted…”

“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. Standard oil and gas drilling equipment was used to reenter an old well drilled to a depth of 3,500 feet and then “refurbish” it by casing the entire well with lengths of steel tubing that cemented into place in order to prevent it from collapsing. 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.”

Of course, the subject of Carbon Capture and Storage has to be covered here : one of the ways proposed to mine Methane Clathrates (Hydrates) is to pump Carbon Dioxide to “push” the Methane out. This would have the bonus of locking the Carbon Dioxide into the material on the seafloor, thereby sequestering it. Or that’s the theory.

“Submarine gas hydrate deposits: exploration, exploitation and transport : In summer 2008, the SUGAR project (Submarine Gas Hydrate Reservoirs) was launched in Germany. The project aims to produce natural gas from marine methane hydrates and to sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) from power plants and other industrial sources as CO2-hydrate in marine sediments. This large-scale national project is funded by two federal ministries and German industries. The total funding is 13 Mio. € over an initial funding period of three years. The project has 30 institutional partners from academia and industries and is coordinated at the Kiel-based Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR)…The following measures were taken in the SUGAR project to account for these consolidated findings: (*)Outcropping hydrate deposits will not be exploited. Only those deposits that are covered by extensive layers of impermeable fine grained sediments will be developed. These deposits are not colonized and used by benthic fauna. The impermeable sedimentary apron will also inhibit the release of methane into the environment during hydrate mining. (*) Hydrates deposited in steep slope areas will not be developed. Hydrates will only be exploited in even terrain and extensive geotechnical surveys will be performed prior to hydrate production to avoid slope failure. (*) Exploited methane hydrates will be replaced by CO2-hydrates. CO2-hydrates are more stable than methane hydrates and are spontaneous formed when liquid CO2 is injected into methane hydrate deposits. Sediments are cemented and stabilized by CO2-hydrate to further reduce the risk of slope failure. In contrast to methane hydrates, CO2-hydrates will not dissociate upon future seafloor warming. Gas swapping in hydrates will thus help to mitigate future greenhouse gas emissions at the seafloor…Carbon capture and storage (CCS) : Industrial CO2 emissions are causing global warming and are severely affecting marine ecosystems. Capture of CO2 at power plants and storage of CO2 in geological formations is regarded as one important measure to mitigate anthropogenic CO2 emissions and global climate change by IPCC, EU and other international organizations. CO2 is usually stored as supercritical phase in depleted oil and gas reservoirs and deep saline aquifers located on land or below shallow seas. The following potential problems are associated with the current CCS approach: (*) Supercritical CO2 is a mobile, buoyant, and aggressive chemical. Only those reservoir rocks that are covered by thick and impermeable cap rocks can be developed for CO2 storage. Supercritical CO2 may nevertheless ascend through bore holes, faults and fractures and may escape into the environment. (*) The pore space of deep aquifers is occupied by saline formation water and natural gas. The displacement of these fluids and gases by injected CO2 may cause strong over-pressures in the reservoir and/or the leakage of brine and gas into the environment. (*) There may not be enough storage capacity in saline aquifers and depleted oil and gas reservoirs to accommodate a significant fraction of the global anthropogenic CO2 production. The CO2-storage approach developed within the SUGAR project may greatly help to resolve these problems: (*) CO2 will not be stored as buoyant supercritical fluid but as solid CO2-hydrate. This approach will greatly mitigate the risk of CO2-leakage since CO2 is fixed in the sediment matrix as dense and immobile solid phase. (*) Free pore space will be created by the coeval production of natural gas from methane hydrates. The injection of CO2 into pore space previously filled by methane hydrates will not lead to over-pressurization and leakage of gas and brine. (*) The storage capacity of hydrate-bearing marine sediments is almost unlimited. The current rise in global CO2 emissions is largely caused by the increasing use of coal as energy resources. The power supply system of the rapidly growing economies of China and India is mainly based on coal. These emerging states also possess vast methane hydrate reservoirs and could use these deposits not only to produce natural gas but also to safely store CO2 from coal power plants. German SUGAR technologies will be made available to other interested parties and may thus help to mitigate anthropogenic CO2 emissions not only in Europe but on a global scale…”

But, of course, there are detractors :-

“Methane matters : 08 August 2009 : Magazine issue 2720 : From William Hughes-Games : Fred Pearce discusses the implications of exploiting methane clathrate reserves in Siberia for fuel (27 June, p 30). The extraction of methane from the ice crystals in which it is trapped, either by pressure reduction or adding heat via hot water or steam, will turn the ice to liquid water, which must then be blown or sucked out of the well. The pressure reduction in the resulting pocket risks creating an unstable cascade effect, allowing excess methane to escape from the solid clathrate from the ever-expanding extraction front. A suggested solution to these challenges is to extract the methane from the ice crystals by displacing it with carbon dioxide. However, the carbon dioxide clathrate produced is more stable than its precursor, and is likely to inhibit any further methane extraction. Waipara, New Zealand”

Some people like Euan Mearns from The Oil Drum and Hugh Sharman of Incoteco, don’t believe that Methane Hydrates can or will be mined, as they think the Energy return on the Energy used to mine them will be too low to economically justify it.

from: Hugh Sharman
to: Jo Abbess
date: 27 July 2009
re: peak oil will put paid to runaway CO2 emissions?


…I see the oildrum is part of your background reading!! I was therefore a little disturbed to see that along with most of the rest of the intelligentsia of my beloved home country, you are going to devote your professional future to being a “low carbon activist”. I hope you will reconsider this.

Any theory is ever only as good as its assumptions. The assumptions used by the IPCCC to develop future projections of run-away CO2 emissions are enormously “optimistic” about the future availability and price of oil, gas and coal.

In fact, we probably saw peak oil flows last year, will soon see peak gas flows, brought forward by Russia’s (and OPEC’s) need to maximize the price of gas and minimize current upstream expenditure. There are soundly based theories that we may be on the cusp of peak coal production. As someone said, it is not the size of the tank that matters, it is the size of the tap! The taps are not getting bigger but smaller, all over the World.

Declining oil, gas and soon coal production will reduce CO2 emissions which are already stabilizing as a consequence of the economic crash. Peak oil flows in the middle of last year and the run-away prices resulting contributed to the crash.

The articles on pages 5 and 6 of the 2 attached newsletters may convince you that it is not run-away global warming that is the immediate problem mankind faces, but unaffordable energy that is already a major contributor to 1.2 billion people going to bed hungry every night. This will get worse very rapidly during the next decade.

So I recommend that in setting out on a new career, you focus instead on the urgent need for low cost energy available to all, including (if it can deliver it which I am beginning to doubt) low cost nuclear!! Of course, this must include using rapidly declining fossil reserves as efficiently as possible until they simply become unaffordable to post-depression Brits!

Best regards,

Hugh Sharman

from: Jo Abbess
to: Hugh Sharman
date: 27 Jul 2009

Hi Hugh,

…I agree there are some good arguments about the possibility that Fossil Fuel depletion will “save” us from Climate Change. Here’s another view from a similiar stable as yourself :-

In the video, David Rutledge urges us to leave Coal in the ground to save us from Global Warming, but since that presentation he seems to have adjusted his views to claim that depletion will stop the worst from happening. (By the way, in the video, he reckons that Peak Energy (Oil, Natural Gas and Coal) will be 2019.)

However, he has only considered the “standard” hydrocarbons and Coal. The danger, from my view, lies in the exploitation of “alternatives”, such as Tar Sands, Methane Clathrates and inaccessible Oil burned to bitumen underground (THAI eg).

For that reason, I wholly and unreservedly advocate investment in RE and ER – Renewable Energy and Energy Reduction – power up and power down from the Zero Carbon Britain model :-

from: Euan Mearns
to: Jo Abbess
re: peak oil will put paid to runaway CO2 emissions?
sent: 27 July 2009


Some food for thought – less tasty than the kind words spoken by Hugh.

When you say

“However, he has only considered the “standard” hydrocarbons and Coal. The danger, from my view, lies in the exploitation of “alternatives”, such as Tar Sands, Methane Clathrates and inaccessible Oil burned to bitumen underground (THAI eg).”

I’d say there’s no way that non-conventional fossil fuel resources will ever be developed since the ERoEI is too low, and they cannot power the OECD industrial society as we know it. When energy gets too expensive our economies will collapse (repeatedly), since there is a limit to what we can pay:

I think that conveying the notion that FF energy is a threat owing to its abundance is a bit dangerous since we are already in the early days of a full blown energy crisis that will likely last the whole of this century.

I’m very firmly in the camp that sees CO2 emissions peaking quite soon – likley by 2020, no matter how hard we try we just won’t be able to raise emission levels any more.

I’m also a raging AGW skeptic – but lets no go there today. I accept the 1°C warming mooted by Houghton for a doubling of CO2 – which we will likely not see.

All the best – and good luck,


from: Hugh Sharman
to: Jo Abbess
date: 11 August 2009
re: Events in space cause clouds. Clouds cause climate variations?


…As regards resource depletion, be of good cheer or bad, which ever you choose. But please be quite and completely sure that we cannot not have run away CO2 emissions as oil and gas extraction (coal too, quite soon) is declining. We may have resource wars and almost certainly will see certainly mass starvation and mass migrations as cheap (clean) energy slips away from the poorest. But CO2 emissions will be declining and if these are the cause of AGW, well, there will be much less than predicted by the IPCC and Stern – and much more important things to think about!



from: Jo Abbess
to: Hugh Sharman
date: 8/11/2009


The teensy-eensy fault-ette in your thinking is this : Carbon Dioxide is not the only Greenhouse Gas :-

Something else of interest :-

I am very conscious of Peak Conventional Hydrocarbon Energy, and I consider it a huge problem, but the proposals being made for dealing with it are likely to exacerbate Climate Change by making newly economically viable “new” “alternative” sources of Hydrocarbons such as Methane Hydrates and complex tars. These would definitely trigger runaway Climate Change. Consider the state of the planet when the biological matter for these was deposited…


from: Hugh Sharman
to: Jo Abbess
date: 12 August 2009
re: Events in space cause clouds. Clouds cause climate variations?


…addressing your main points with my own counter-hypothesis.

The “teensy-eensy fault-ette” in the well-advertised scare-mongering over methane hydrates and tar sand/shale oil etc is the unconscionable (energy investment)/(energy return) ratio of most unconventionals. The net energy coming from their extraction gets ever and ever less for ever higher “energy investments”. Matt Simmonds rightly describes tar oil extraction as the transformation of a silk purse (natural gas) to a sow’s ear (“synthetic” crude oil)! These worsening ratios are hidden because of the absurd and temporary disconnect between the “market value” of liquids vs the “market value” of natural gas. When these re-converge, as they did briefly last year, the financial costs of all hydrocarbons will become (already are) unconscionable for perhaps up to 2/3 of humanity.

The crash we in the OECD are climbing out of, was only partly caused by stupid and deeply corrupt banking practices. There is a hidden and much more serious commodity issue here. If they really are as scarce as some of us maintain, these “crash” events will recur with ever greater frequency as energy prices spike, due to scarcity, and massive transfers of more wealth (financial capital) take place, one-way, between the OECD and the suppliers in OPEC and Russia. Gordon Brown is not often right these days but in one respect he is quite right to highlight that the OECD cannot afford >$80/b equivalent for imported hydrocarbons. Pity he is also so (insanely) sure that there is an endless cornucopia of cheap and accessible hydrocarbons “out there” and that the only problem (from his viewpoint) is that we can no longer help ourselves to them at convenient prices.

The uncomfortable fact about renewables (and nuclear!) is that these cannot fill the gap left by (any) hydrocarbons at an affordable price, nor “in time”, so the whole World is about to get much poorer, very quickly, following peak conventional hydrocarbons. It will not be a pretty spectacle. There will be (in my view already are) much more immediate things to address than non-existent run away GHG emissions. At least this situation will bring to an end the deeply unedifying spectacles of the annual COPs, now more resembling a bloated and over-fed circus of completely useless, deeply hypocritical bureaucrats, politicians and well-paid (from the public purse) hangers-on.

Check out my hypothesis at where there is never a dull moment!! Search out “Olduvai Gorge” and articles by Euan Mearns, copied here.

regards, Hugh

from: Jo Abbess
to: Hugh Sharman
date: 12 August 2009
re: Events in space cause clouds. Clouds cause climate variations?

Hi Hugh,

You say, “Gordon Brown is not often right these days but in one respect he is quite right to highlight that the OECD cannot afford >$80/b equivalent for imported hydrocarbons.”

My view is that, whether or not Gordon Brown is right less often than wrong, that, since the value of money is constantly in flux, and since more money can always be printed, we should be more concerned about the ERoEI value of Energy, (how much we have to invest in terms of labour and time and Energy in order to produce Energy) than the current money value (which is in flux) since the ERoEI will determine more precisely the flow in future.

In fact, the value of money is determined by the availability of Energy, and, that being so, money will always be found to process unconventional forms of Hydrocarbons. As long as the demand for the Energy is there, the resources will be directed to producing it, even at a very low margin of value (Energy) profit.

You say, “When these re-converge, as they did briefly last year, the financial costs of all hydrocarbons will become (already are) unconscionable for perhaps up to 2/3 of humanity.”

I reply to say that the two thirds of humanity who don’t have cheap and readily available Energy will continue to have that scarcity. No change there. What really matters is how those Energy-hungry people will take the increasing scarcity and increasing real value of Energy. The rich will continue to be rich, relative to others, and to have access to Energy they can afford. The less well-off in the developed countries will be the worst affected, as the number of people in the lower percentiles will increase.

You say, “The uncomfortable fact about renewables (and nuclear!) is that these cannot fill the gap left by (any) hydrocarbons at an affordable price, nor “in time”, so the whole World is about to get much poorer, very quickly, following peak conventional hydrocarbons. It will not be a pretty spectacle.”

I agree, and that is why we must follow a process of power up and powerdown at the same time : RE + ER = renewable energy plus energy demand reduction.

You say, “non-existent run away GHG emissions”.

I would say that, since Energy underpins the whole Economy, and civilisation itself, it is a primary focus for me. However, I have “stereo” vision in that I try to take in other significant horizons too. The amount of environmental degradation from a “measly” 0.8 degrees C global rise in average temperature is significant and should not be ignored or discounted, as any further change to the temperature will inevitably make important things like food production so much harder.

You say, “the deeply unedifying spectacles of the annual COPs, now more resembling a bloated and over-fed circus of completely useless, deeply hypocritical bureaucrats, politicians and well-paid (from the public purse) hangers-on.”

I say : the world has never had to do this before, manage Energy scarcity and environmental damage, so it’s not surprising that the administration is sometimes lax and directionless. I pity poor Yvo de Boer. He cried last year. I expect he will suffer again this December.

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