The United States Geological Survey has put out a fact sheet on the subject of methane hydrates. Total natural gas reserves are often measured in trillion cubic feet (or TCF for short). Worldwide the USGS reports that estimates of resources of conventional natural gas are about 13,000 TCF. It’s not so easy to estimate what methane hydrates on the seafloor and in permafrost may contain, but the USGS fact sheet gives this resource the range of 100,000 to almost 300,000,000 TCF. Not all of the gas may be extractable, but clearly the total amount of methane hydrates is immense.
The Japanese are particularly interested in methane hydrates off their shores because they don’t have other fossil fuels to exploit. They are, therefore, likely to lead the rest of the world in looking for ways to mine underwater methane hydrates.
Like other energy resources, there are serious questions about environmental tradeoffs involved in using a lot of methane hydrates to meet our energy needs. But one thing, I think, is certain: we’ll be hearing more about the ice that burns in the future.
Dr. E. Kirsten Peters was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.