Ice that burns

Moira Baird
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Gas hydrates believed to be world's largest potential energy resource

Methane gas hydrates are the next frontier in fossil-fuel energy - and they're believed to be in abundance off Canada's East Coast and in the Arctic.

Often described as "ice that burns," methane hydrates are frozen water molecules that trap gas.

That gas could bridge the gap between dwindling fossil fuels and more environmentally friendly sources of energy.

Randy Gillespie of the Marine Institute makes a presentation at the one-day workshop Wednesday on methane gas hydrates organized by C-CORE. - Photograph by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Methane gas hydrates are the next frontier in fossil-fuel energy - and they're believed to be in abundance off Canada's East Coast and in the Arctic.

Often described as "ice that burns," methane hydrates are frozen water molecules that trap gas.

That gas could bridge the gap between dwindling fossil fuels and more environmentally friendly sources of energy.

C-CORE, the Centre for Cold Ocean Resources Engineering, hosted a one-day workshop in St. John's Wednesday to raise local awareness of methane gas hydrates.

It featured experts from Canada, Norway and the U.S.

"There's evidence of a considerable resource here offshore and we need to build local capacity in order to develop that resource for the maximum benefit of the province," said Tony King, senior project manager for C-CORE.

He likened the development of methane hydrates off Newfoundland to where the oilsands and shale gas were 10-15 years ago - meaning work on gas hydrates ought to begin now.

"You have to do the R&D upfront, you have to make the investment up front or it never happens," said King.

Charles Randell, president and chief executive officer of C-CORE, said the workshop was designed to focus attention on the gas hydrates potential off Newfoundland and Labrador.

"It was a great opportunity to bring in the world experts," he said. "We see it as an emerging opportunity, so this is laying the groundwork to see if it is something that should be pursued locally."

The first step in that pursuit is coming up with better estimates of gas hydrates resources off the East Coast, said David Mosher of the Geological Survey of Canada.

No wells have been drilled in the waters off Newfoundland that would help assess that resource.

"We have no ground truth," said Mosher.

"Where a lot of these margins have been drilled. Ours haven't, and so even to get one hole to sample would give us a starting point."

He said drilling that single well would cost millions of dollars and likely won't be done without an industry partner.

Typically, Mosher said, gas hydrates offshore are found in deep waters of 1,000 metres or more.

"In the marine environment, you need the sufficient water depth to get the pressures required."

Gas hydrates are located about 300 metres to 500 metres below the seabed.

"So, we're looking in that top 500 metres," said Mosher.

Fred Wright of the Geological Survey of Canada, has researched gas hydrates in the Arctic for more than 15 years.

He told the 80 people attending Wednesday's workshop conventional oil and gas supplies are expected to start declining after 2020 based on current North American consumption rates.

He said the gap could be filled by gas hydrates.

Methane is the most common natural gas found in those hydrates.

Once melted, Wright said one volume of gas hydrates yields about 160 volume of natural gas.

"That makes it an incredibly dense storehouse for natural gas," he said.

In 2008, Natural Resources Canada led an international consortium that depressurized a reservoir and produced gas hydrates continuously in low volumes from the Mallik well in the Northwest Territories.

Wright said that got the attention of industry.

"This currently represents the only sustained production of ... significant volumes of gas hydrates to date."

Next year, the U.S. Geological Survey is preparing to drill a gas hydrates well in the perma-frost of the Alaska North Slope.

Japan is targeting commercial production of gas hydrates by 2017.

mbaird@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Cold Ocean Resources Engineering, North American, Natural Resources Canada Alaska North Slope

Geographic location: Canada, East Coast, Arctic Newfoundland and Labrador St. John's Norway U.S. Northwest Territories Japan

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Recent comments

  • Dave in NL
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Wow! That's it? A one day seminar?
    MUN received $40million in R&D funding over the past decade from us taxpayers and promised to recruit 19 new oil & gas related faculty, create 12 new oil & gas programs, graduate 150 students per year in directly related degrees, develop a comprehensive oil & gas expertise, etc.
    I'm pretty sure they have missed on all targets except spending the $40million.
    Will someone please measure their lack of success and scrutinize the R&D accounting at that place?

  • call that a start?
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    That gas could bridge the gap between dwindling fossil fuels and more environmentally friendly sources of energy.




    There is nothing environmentally friendly whatsoever about druilling, refining and burning METHANE gas. its the worst GREENHOUSE gas there is supposedly and the worlds already doomed supposedly so what are we gonna do? drill baby drill of course. So typical.

    Hey Danny, If you do start drilling frozen hydrocarbons let it be a provincial venture on its own. 100 percent of the profits should be Newfoundlands, the peoples. 10 percent for our own resources while industry makes 90 percent is unnacceptable.

    If you want to bridge the gap between environmentally friendly and environmentally hostile these are the things that need to happen.

    1) all manufactured products need to made to last. too much stuff is designed to break to keep your dollars in companies pockets.
    2) Real battery technology needs to be used and exploited instead of bought out, patened by oil companies and sat on doing nothing.
    3)Biofuels! Hemp Oil is a great start. if you dont like hemp, use hops. Its the same stuff they use in beer and its also from the cannabis family.
    4)renewable energy. Newfoundland is a powerhouse of tidal, geo thermal, wind and believe it or not solar energy. We need to exploit these energy sources instead of carelessly burning fossil fuels. When you think about it, fossil fuels are too important and valuable to just burn away.

  • Dave in NL
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    Wow! That's it? A one day seminar?
    MUN received $40million in R&D funding over the past decade from us taxpayers and promised to recruit 19 new oil & gas related faculty, create 12 new oil & gas programs, graduate 150 students per year in directly related degrees, develop a comprehensive oil & gas expertise, etc.
    I'm pretty sure they have missed on all targets except spending the $40million.
    Will someone please measure their lack of success and scrutinize the R&D accounting at that place?

  • call that a start?
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    That gas could bridge the gap between dwindling fossil fuels and more environmentally friendly sources of energy.




    There is nothing environmentally friendly whatsoever about druilling, refining and burning METHANE gas. its the worst GREENHOUSE gas there is supposedly and the worlds already doomed supposedly so what are we gonna do? drill baby drill of course. So typical.

    Hey Danny, If you do start drilling frozen hydrocarbons let it be a provincial venture on its own. 100 percent of the profits should be Newfoundlands, the peoples. 10 percent for our own resources while industry makes 90 percent is unnacceptable.

    If you want to bridge the gap between environmentally friendly and environmentally hostile these are the things that need to happen.

    1) all manufactured products need to made to last. too much stuff is designed to break to keep your dollars in companies pockets.
    2) Real battery technology needs to be used and exploited instead of bought out, patened by oil companies and sat on doing nothing.
    3)Biofuels! Hemp Oil is a great start. if you dont like hemp, use hops. Its the same stuff they use in beer and its also from the cannabis family.
    4)renewable energy. Newfoundland is a powerhouse of tidal, geo thermal, wind and believe it or not solar energy. We need to exploit these energy sources instead of carelessly burning fossil fuels. When you think about it, fossil fuels are too important and valuable to just burn away.