Fracking has been attacked as an environmental menace to underground water supplies, and may eventually be greatly restricted. But it has also unleashed so much petroleum in North America that the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based consortium of energy-consuming nations, predicted in November that by 2035, the United States will become “all but self-sufficient in net terms.” If the Chikyu researchers are successful, methane hydrate could have similar effects in Japan. And not just in Japan: China, India, Korea, Taiwan, and Norway are looking to unlock these crystal cages, as are Canada and the United States.
The article goes on to discuss the arguments between those who think we’ll run out of these resources and those who think we won’t, and those who think the more new ones we find the more we’ll ignore whatever it is we should be doing to limit AGW (a position which in turn depends on the belief that climate change is human-induced, a discussion we’ve had enough times before that I’ll skip it for now).
Here are some of the possibilities for methane hydrate:
Estimates of the global supply of methane hydrate range from the equivalent of 100 times more than America’s current annual energy consumption to 3 million times more. A tiny fraction—1 percent or less—is buried in permafrost around the Arctic Circle, mostly in Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. The rest is beneath the waves, a reservoir so huge that some scientists believe sudden releases of undersea methane eons ago set off abrupt, catastrophic changes in climate. Humankind cannot tap into the bulk of these deep, vast deposits by any known means. But even a small proportion of a very big number is a very big number.
The article is long, complex, and technical. I have no idea whether it is correct, however; I just don’t have the technical expertise. But one thing of note is that it makes clear that a lot of environmentalists would rather we not find these new sources of energy. They seem to have the notion that if we finally run out of all non-renewable energy sources (a development they seem to be aching for) we’ll be forced to use wonderful things like solar power. But of course, if solar were a reliable, effective, and inexpensive way to generate power the entire country would be filled with solar panels already.
No, it’s not just our love affair with things like oil and gas and fracking that makes us ignore the wonders of solar power, it’s that solar power just won’t do the job. But:
For years, environmentalists have hoped that the imminent exhaustion of oil will, in effect, force us to undergo this virtuous transition; given a choice between no power and solar power, even the most shortsighted person would choose the latter. That hope seems likely to be denied. Cheap, abundant petroleum threw sand in the gears of solar power in the 1980s and stands ready to do it again. Plentiful natural gas, a geopolitical and economic boon, is a climatological shackle. To Vaclav Smil, the University of Manitoba environmental scientist, the notion that we can move so fast is naive, even preposterous. “Energy transitions are always slow,” he told me by e-mail. Modern energy infrastructures, assembled over decades, cannot be revamped overnight. Worse still, in his view, there is little public appetite for beginning the process, or even appreciating the magnitude of what lies ahead. “The world has been running into fossil fuels, not away from them.”
There is also little question in my mind that a certain segment of the environmental community—although I have no idea whether Smil is among them—would dearly love for this dilemma to cause us to ratchet down our energy use in a major way, and commence freezing in the winter, broiling in the summer, going to bed by candlelight, and walking everywhere.