13 November 2008 16:30 [Source: ICIS news]
By Joe Kamalick
This week the Department of the Interior and the US Geological Survey (USGS) said that approximately 85,400bn cubic feet (bcf) of technically recoverable gas hydrates lie beneath the Alaskan North Slope.
The term “technically recoverable” means that the gas hydrates can be developed and produced using current technology and industry practices.
The North Slope estimate “points to a truly significant potential for natural gas hydrates to contribute to the energy mix of the
USGS Director Mark Myers said that his agency’s estimate of North Slope hydrates resources “is especially important now that a growing body of evidence indicates that concentrated gas hydrate accumulations in conventional hydrocarbon reservoirs, such as those in northern
Methane gas hydrates are an open, solid lattice of water molecules that enclose, without chemical bonding, molecules of methane.
The hydrates are stable at varying levels of pressure and temperature, even up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, although generally they are found at low but not necessarily freezing temperatures.
When heated, the hydrates release methane, the principal component of natural gas.
While the methane gas from hydrates would not directly benefit the general petrochemicals industry - which needs the ethane from conventional natural gas for feedstock - it could be the raw material for methanol production.
Perhaps more significantly, a large influx of hydrates gas into the North American energy marketplace would help drive down prices for the natural gas feeds so important to chemical producers.
The new estimates of
Overall, the USGS estimates that in the
Not all of the estimated gas hydrates throughout the
News of the North Slope hydrates analysis followed word of vast new shale gas resources that production firms say could bring as much as 11,000 bcf of additional natgas to the
In addition, the Energy Department recently reported that US proven reserves of natural gas rose 13% in 2007 to 237,700 bcf, the highest level in the 31 years that the department has been tracking gas supplies.
And there’s still more domestic gas resources near at hand.
This week the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) formally issued its notice of intent to begin leasing energy development acreage in the outer continental shelf (OCS) off the
It is the first step toward developing what may be vast oil and gas resources off the US Atlantic coast and came following the end of a 27-year-long offshore drilling ban that Congress - with much lament and protest - allowed to expire at the end of September.
Actual drilling off the
Democrat leaders in Congress - who saw their majority control expanded in both the House and Senate in this month’s US national elections - have already indicated they will try to restore drilling bans along much of the
Environmentalists are dead certain to pitch court challenges against development of
Full development of the seemingly vast shale gas reserves also may come under environmental guns because the hydro fracturing process used to free gas from shale is water intensive and could be seen to pose risks to nearby communities’ water resources.
Shale gas development also is costly and becomes financially untenable if natgas prices fall below $8/m Btu.
Still, taken together, these new developments suggest that the
But, just as environmental, political and NIMBY (not in my back yard) challenges have severely limited US development of its vast coal resources, access to offshore gas and onshore shale and hydrates gas supplies may be beyond political possibility.
As the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama takes shape, people in the chemicals industry and throughout the broad
For the record, Obama has said that he would support “limited” offshore energy development, but he has not further articulated that policy.
Obama also will have to contend with Democrat allies in Congress who are staunchly opposed to further development of hydrocarbon energy resources, focused instead on energy efficiency, conservation and massive spending on alternative energy proposals.
In what may be the first turn of the weather vane for Obama energy policy, John Podesta, head of Obama’s transition team, has already declared that the Obama administration will move quickly to repeal plans recently announced by the MMS to open new areas of Utah to drilling.
That suggests an ill wind soon to blow for
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