New assessment of gas locked in ice in European waters

University of Southampton

A study led by the University of Southampton has mapped several sites in Europe containing gas hydrate - a relatively clean fuel which could help bridge the gap between fossil fuels and renewables. Credit Hector Marin Moreno

A study led by the University of Southampton has mapped several sites in Europe containing gas hydrate – a relatively clean fuel which could help bridge the gap between fossil fuels and renewables. Credit Hector Marin Moreno

A study led by the University of Southampton has mapped several sites in Europe containing gas hydrate – a relatively clean fuel which could help bridge the gap between fossil fuels and renewables.

Vast amounts of natural gas are stored in an ice-like form beneath the seabed, under the deep seafloor, close to edge of the landmasses that form our continents. This gas hydrate, sometimes known as ‘ice that burns’, has the potential to play a role as a substitute for coal in the coming decades, until there is sufficient renewable energy to meet society’s demands.

This new inventory of gas hydrate deposits was undertaken as part of MIGRATE (Marine Gas Hydrates: An Indigenous Resource of Natural Gas for Europe), a project funded by the European Commission and led by the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Kiel.

The research showed there are direct or indirect indications of the presence of hydrate at several European sites, including off the west and east coasts of Greenland, on and around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard (Barents Sea), off central Norway and west of Ireland. It is also present in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.

Professor Tim Minshull of the University of Southampton, who led a 31 strong-team from 14 countries, said: “We found that gas hydrate is particularly widespread around Svalbard, off Norway and in the Black Sea, but the hydrate systems have only been well investigated in a few areas, so there could be much still to discover.

“Exploiting gas hydrate deposits safely and efficiently presents challenges, for example, converting the hydrate to gas without using up too much energy. But several large feasibility projects are exploring these and other factors.”

The study authors point out that having this hydrate inventory may also be important for more acute environmental reasons. If oceans warm due to climate change, hydrate may naturally melt, releasing methane which could change the chemical balance of the oceans. Mapping where this might happen will help scientists to monitor progress.

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The results of this study, which incorporates work from the Southampton PhD theses of Sudipta Sarkar, Bedanta Goswami and Eric Attias and involved collaboration with Dr Hector Marín-Moreno of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, are published in the international journal Marine and Petroleum Geology.

Notes to Editors

1) Hydrate occurrence in Europe: A review of available evidence is published in the journal Marine Petroleum and Geology, DOI: 10.1016/j.marpetgeo.2019.08.014

2) The University of Southampton drives original thinking, turns knowledge into action and impact, and creates solutions to the world’s challenges. We are among the top 100 institutions globally (QS World University Rankings 2019). Our academics are leaders in their fields, forging links with high-profile international businesses and organisations, and inspiring a 22,000-strong community of exceptional students, from over 135 countries worldwide. Through our high-quality education, the University helps students on a journey of discovery to realise their potential and join our global network of over 200,000 alumni. http://www.southampton.ac.uk

3) For more on GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research visit https://www.geomar.de/en/ and for the National Oceanography Centre visit https://www.noc.ac.uk/

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63 thoughts on “New assessment of gas locked in ice in European waters

  1. They could discover a herd of farty unicorns with their exhaust pipes already plugged into capture tanks and the Greens would still not be happy.

    If it was about reducing CO2 they would embrace fracking. If it was REALLY about CO2 we would be knee deep in nuclear plants.

    Spoiler? it’s not. It is about forcing change on the establishment by removing the market share and political power of the ‘wrong’ people, and transferring that market and power to the ‘right’ ones.

    Remember, whenever you hear someone discussing forming a new world order and/or a worker’s paradise you will always find those same people casting themselves into ‘organisational roles’. Show me a socialist who really honestly wants to spend the rest of his/her life in the fields helping to fill a farm quota and I will show you a liar.

  2. Will the CO2 released from burning these clathrates for fuel be enough to stop the next glaciation?

    • No. If we double CO2 from 300 to 600 PPM we might get somewhere between 0.5C and 1.5C warming. After that we have to go to 1200 to see the same effect. That might offset about 1/4 of the 4C drop so it will help but not much or enough to prevent a glaciation.

  3. “If oceans warm due to climate change, hydrate may naturally melt, releasing methane which could change the chemical balance of the oceans. ”

    But…but… we have already been told.

  4. Two thoughts

    1- No it is fossil fuel. The green Europeans should not be allowed to use it.

    2 – “This gas hydrate, sometimes known as ‘ice that burns’, has the potential to play a role as a substitute for coal in the coming decades, until there is sufficient renewable energy to meet society’s demands.” There must’ve one hell of a lot of it to last until there is ”sufficient renewable energy”

    • Clarky of Oz

      1,000 years of all mankind’s energy needs according to many. We might even have cracked fusion by then.

    • There is a lot of it. Methane hydrate resources on the US Outer Continental Shelf are estimated to be equivalent to about 1,000 years of our natural gas production. The problem is that no one has the slightest clue as to how to produce them at an economically viable rate.

          • The basic difference between fossil and not fossil is how long the critter that formed it has been dead???

          • It’s whether the hydrocarbons formed from biogenic or thermogenic processes. Biogenic methane forms from the direct decay of organic matter… I don’t think of this as fossil fuel… Although, that’s just my opinion. Crude oil and most natural gas formed differently. The organic matter was buried in sediment under anoxic conditions and didn’t decay. As it was buried more deeply as sediments accumulated over it., heat and pressure converted it to kerogen, then oil and then natural gas. This is a thermogenic process.

            Some, maybe most, people call all of it fossil fuel. That’s why I wrote that it’s a distinction without much of a difference.

        • Not fossil, no. No animals or plants were harmed is the creation of methane seeping out of the earth’s mantle.

      • You gotta think big, David,
        Its simple, put a big plastic bag over the hydrates, say a mile in diameter, inject warm surface water with pumps plus some methanol and melt those hydrates and collect the methane bubbles. Enough methane collected to heat the average Minnesota garage in winter at a cost of only a few hundred million dollars, but think of the green jobs and the GND subsidies. Meanwhile in the real world, hydrates freeze up pipelines and are a PIA to producers.

      • Salute!

        TNX, David.

        I thot the massive hydrates off the east coast were old news. Except for the Bermuda Triangle stories about boiling water coming up from the sea floor and swallowing ships.

        Gums sends…

    • Indeed. “Until there is sufficient renewable energy to meet society’s demands” means forever, unless there is a truly remarkable breakthrough in energy storage, which seems unlikely.

      Nuclear power could plausibly meet society’s energy demands. Wind and solar cannot. No matter how much their cost declines or efficiency improves, they simply cannot produce energy on windless nights.

      Also, anyone worried about what will happen “If oceans warm due to climate change” should read Willis’s calculations, here:
      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/01/14/the-ocean-warms-by-a-whole-little/

      (Also, BTW, Greenland is not in Europe.)

          • For the purposes of resource extraction, Greenland is a European resource. As Brazil would have been if it still were a colony.

            Is it a co-incidence that Trump offered to buy Greenland?

  5. Oh no, David attenborough, the climate educated professor (sarc) has said that this is a climate crisis moment 😐 Yes you’ve guessed it, its co2 😐

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/science-environment-51123638?__twitter_impression=true

    According to the renowned naturalist and broadcaster, “we have been putting things off for year after year”.

    “As I speak, south east Australia is on fire. Why? Because the temperatures of the Earth are increasing,” he said.

    (IF THEY ARE INCREASING, THEN WHY ISN’T INDIA/AFRICA on FIRE????

    Sir David’s comments came in a BBC News interview to launch a year of special coverage on the subject of climate change.

    He told me it was “palpable nonsense” for some politicians and commentators to suggest that the Australian fires were nothing to do with the world becoming warmer.

    “We know perfectly well,” he said, that human activity is behind the heating of the planet 😐😐

    • Captain James Cook named Smoky Cape (NSW) in the year 1770.
      He was under the illusion that Australia was on fire.
      David Attenborough knows best!

      • The Los Angeles basin was called the valley of smoke by the Indians when the Spanish got there. Fires all the time and the smoke was blocked from leaving by inversion layers and the mountains.

    • “…south east Australia is on fire. Why? Because the temperatures of the Earth are increasing”

      But hot oceans should produce more rain, or I’m missing something?
      If not, why rainforests do exist at all?

  6. How do they manage to operate all that machinery using solar panels and wind turbines?

    Oh, hang on …..

  7. what’s the chemical compostion of this stuff? Does it have the same CO2 output when burned as carbon/hydrogen compounds?

    • “what’s the chemical compostion of this stuff?”

      It’s methane (natural gas) mechanically trapped in molecular “cages” in ice.

    • No, not on a per-BTU basis. When methane burns, you get one CO2 and two H2O per molecule, but coal (carbon) goes to CO2 only. I don’t have my Chemical Engineer’s Handbook, er, handy, so I don’t know the molar ratio that gets you the same heat. Not that I think CO2 is a problem, unless it’s that there isn’t enough of it in the atmosphere. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the glacial age has got to go.”

      • D. J. Hawkins
        You said, “…, but coal (carbon) goes to CO2 only.” That would be accurate if you had said graphite or diamond. Coal is a generic, industrial term with varying amounts of hydrogen-bearing volatiles. Anthracite would be a little more precise, but still contains hydrogen.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal

        • Yes, I know this. I used to be an explosives development engineer for Hercules. Explosives for use in underground coal mines were called “permissables” and specially formulated for this circumstance, but not all coal mines have this hazard, nor at the same level if present. However, once mined, the coal is not a significant source of methane.

  8. “This gas hydrate, sometimes known as ‘ice that burns’, has the potential to play a role as a substitute for coal in the coming decades, until there is sufficient renewable energy to meet society’s demands.”

    WTF are these peopl smoking. A substitute???

    It’s estimated by some that there is 1,000 years worth of the entire energy needs of the world available from methane hydrate!

    No doubt when they do eventually start harvesting the stuff, the greens will tell us all we will hit ‘peak methane hydrate’ within 5 years.

    And whilst the world is figuring out how to cheaply and safely harvest the stuff, that’s purely a physical issue that will be overcome.

    It’s interesting though, that the greens have almost themselves precipitated research into innumerable energy solutions with their incessant wailing. Windmills and solar panels being the least efficient, practical, or environmentally friendly.

    Only greens could have chosen the absolute worst of all the options available to mankind.

  9. Japan is highly motivated to exploit methane hydrate since it imports almost all its fuel. It has been working on the problem. If it was feasible, the Japanese would already be doing it. link

  10. What is the origin of this deep-sea methane? Does it seep out of the seabed crust, or does it come from sediments?

  11. I do not quite understand the comment: “If oceans warm due to climate change, hydrate may naturally melt,..”
    At presnt gas hydrates are found in seas as disparate as the Eastern mediterranean (current SST 17+/- 1C) and the arctic seas , (SST 1-4C) . Admittedly it is winter in Europe at present , and these are surface temperatures , but it suggests that the actual surface temperature is largely irrelevant to the existence of deap sea hydrates , but is it not mainly the upper sea levels that will manifest the effects of global warming in the foreseable future ?
    Why did they not reference the (well known) methane – water phase diagram which shows the unlikelihood of global warming releasing gas
    http://www1.lsbu.ac.uk/water/images/methane_hydrate_phase.gif
    http://www1.lsbu.ac.uk/water/clathrate_hydrates.html
    unless unbelievable amounts of excess heat have been acquired by the planet, enough to raise the sea floor temperature to 15C.

    • “If oceans warm due to climate change, hydrate may naturally melt,..”

      As I understand it, it’s both pressure and temperature that keep methane in these hydrates.

      Soooo, how many millimeters would the oceans have to rise to compensate for a 0.003C in temperature increase?

  12. Article says:

    Exploiting gas hydrate deposits safely and efficiently presents challenges, for example, converting the hydrate to gas without using up too much energy. But several large feasibility projects are exploring these and other factors.

    Silly me, I thought simply “can’t you just add heat?”. The very next paragraph says:

    If oceans warm due to climate change, hydrate may naturally melt, releasing methane which could change the chemical balance of the oceans.

    So mining the hydrates isn’t economical because it takes too much energy to extract the methane, but the bottom of the oceans warming by (worst case?) 0.1°C will cause it all to come bubbling out? Sounds crazy to me.

  13. THERE IS NO BRIDGE BETWEEN FOSSIL FUELS AND RENEWABLES. EVER. Not happening. Propaganda at it’s finest and I have to find it on a so-called skeptical site. Might as well go back to reading the Huffington Post….

  14. In the spirit of Daniel Day Lewis from the Movie, “There will be blood,” regarding the deposits in the Black Sea.
    Europeans better hope that Putin doesn’t take his straw and drink their milkshake and then sell it back to them.

  15. I doubt this resource will ever be exploited to any major degree. Harvesting it is just too inefficient & problematic. Even I would flinch at tearing up vast areas of the ocean bottom.

  16. David, the article correctly refers to the ice as natural gas, not
    which just methane. If a gas chronograph is used to analyze
    the samples, ethane, propane, butane, etc, in addition to methane
    are seen. The zone of stability, temperature vs. pressure, is readily
    available by Google search.

    The U.S. government drilled an exploration well into the hydrate
    layer on the Alaskan North Slope, but I have never seen results
    published. David, do you have a reference for their findings at
    hand?

    An example of hydrates at hand is off the Carolina coast,
    there is a layer of natural gas hydrates ~500 meters thick.
    This layer is under about 500 ft of what appears to the
    ocean floor.

    When drilled samples were tested for age, they were
    55 million or more years old. They have been stable
    through many ice ages/warm periods.

    The last major releases from the zone of stability
    appear to have been caused by comet of large meteor

  17. David, the article correctly refers to natural gas,
    not just methane.

    When the price of natural gas rises enough to
    make the reward for solving the problem high
    enough, it will be solved, just as fracking has
    been.

    I think that the answer is likely to be relatively
    simple, but very dangerous.

    The method suggested that may work is using
    depleted uranium for heat, but controlling the
    gas will be difficult and dangerous.

    I visualize an auger which pulls the hydrate into a
    pipe and is mixed with seawater and pumped to
    the surface to be warmed, the gas separated from
    contaminates, re-cooled, and stored in a LNG
    tanker for shipment.

    • as if betz limits invention you are manipulation wind energy values to for hell of a way to boil water.with bogus oil era scam mine has no betz limiting gaps at all.

    • It doesn’t have to be warmed all that much, if at all. Just bringing it up to the surface should drop the pressure enough for most of the gas to be released.

      • It is estimated to be twice as much methyl hydrate /methane (hydrocarbons/natural gas-CH4) on the ocean floor than all the black coal in the crust of the earth.
        As already expressed in the comments above, when Sea life dies, it is eaten by bacteria/plankton which produces methane and hydrogen sulfide.
        On the bottom of the deep cold ocean, gases are pressurized into a liquid form which will freeze at higher temperatures than freshwater.
        Volcanic vents, A primary source of methyl hydrate in the deep ocean, pump out gases of methane, carbon dioxide etc. that remain a liquid and will quickly freeze under the high pressure unless circulated to the ocean surface.
        A very large supply of energy if it can be accessed at a reasonable return.

        Some of the best first proposals was using a nuclear submarine to provide power for grinding/mining equipment, heat, propeller to drive water circulation of ice deposits in ocean sediment to the surface where methane and other volatiles (including carbon dioxide) will expand into a gas when the pressure is relieved.
        Under cost analysis, the nuclear submarine can produce more energy by it’s self, then the methyl hydrate that it was extracting. Spending dollars to make pennies.

        The best proposal for mining methyl hydrate on the ocean floor that I’ve seen, is using a large diameter insulated sheath made of plastic/rubber? Anchored to the surface where it captures a current of warm water forcing it downward 2000 feet or more to the ocean bottom. (warm water likes to rise but once the flow is established, it should need very little power to force circulation)
        Grinding Machines used in modern mining will dig an entrance hole which will bore downward in the soft lime stone/hydrates creating a slurry. This will continue to bedrock then will bore laterally for several miles then upward to create an exit hole.
        Now mine the ocean floor like a coal bed. High cathedral like arched ceilings 50 feet thick, to preserve the seabed in its natural pristine condition, while extracting the ancient methane deposits 1000 feet thick + underneath. Tunnels mined into a slurry creating chambers and send’t directly upward in a tube inside of a tube to release the expanding bubbles of gas to be collected and compressed by the ship on the surface. The sediment byproduct of calcium carbonate will return from the surface in the “outer tube” to be directed back through the hole to the floor of the empty cavern. This way the deep ocean waters remain clean and unaffected by the process.
        Unless new technology using more efficient methods can be created, it is estimated that 1/2 of the methane produced will be needed to produce the power requirements of the mining equipment and compressors.
        The extracted liquid carbon dioxide can be re-introduced with the sediments to the ocean floor if not released directly into the atmosphere.
        At current natural gas prices, it’s not even close to being cost-effective. It is cheaper to liquefy the natural gas and ship it to where it’s needed.

  18. The global-warming people say that methane in the atmosphere absorbs 20 times as much IR radiation as CO2. Burning one mole of methane produces one mole of CO2.

    So if the methane hydrates were to melt, this would add X moles of methane to the atmosphere. Mining them and burning them would add X moles of CO2 to the atmosphere, which would reduce the global-warming effect by a factor of 20.

    So let’s mine and burn the methane hydrates as soon as it becomes technologically and economically feasible, and reduce the global warming from them by 95%!

  19. Both Great Britain and Germany have banned fracking of their sizeable natural gas deposits. If you think they would allow digging up the seas for methane hydrate production, you’re dreaming.

  20. There was a seismic event in 1929 off the Grand Banks shelf of the eastern seaboard. The Tsunami caused by the 7.2 quake resulted from a massive displacement of material on this shelf that formed a landslide at its edge. The Tsunami caused a loss of life along the south coast of Newfoundland as a number of fishing communities were wiped out from the 26 ft cresting waves. One of the theories put forth lately by geologists is that the displacement was made worse by the release of a large methane ice deposit at the time of the landslide. These deposits are kept in place by bottom sea pressure, surface cover and colder temperatures. It was the theory of the geologist that by removing the surface layer also allowed for the methane deposit to quickly convert to a gaseous state and there fore increase the displacement of the Tsunami wave brought on by the earthquake.

    This same geologist reported that the entire eastern seaboard of North America has many very large deposits of this methane ice along most of its length and if some of these deposits were to react the same as the 1929 event then there could be more Tsunamis generated in the future.

  21. Of course, one problem of the dissociation of methane hydrate is that it’s not only gas that is released. According to Prof. Mike Lovell of the University of Leicester:

    When melted, one litre of solid gas hydrate produces about 160 litres of methane gas and 0.8 litres of fresh water. So, in addition to a huge methane resource, the world’s hydrates also hold as much as eight times the total amount of fresh water in the world’s rivers. (P l a n e t E a r t h S u m m e r 2 0 0 3 — w w w . n e r c . a c . uk)

    Any large scale dissociation would potentially cause a fresh water release near or at the seabed/water column interface. This happened naturally on a much larger scale at the Paleocene/Eocene boundary and is marked by a benthic foraminifera (shelled protozoan) extinction event in several areas, including the North Sea. I would hope that this aspect of methane hydrate exploitation would be taken into account.

  22. I would say we’ve already seen the greens playbook on what they’ll do to try and stop mining hydrates if it ever becomes economical. There was a proposed buoy wave generation plant for testing purposes off the coast of Oregon many years ago. The greens came out of the wood work claiming how it would interfere with whale migration, fish stocks, spoil the view, etc.. They pretty much tossed the kitchen sink at the proposal hoping something would stick well enough to stop the project. So the playbook has already been opened.

    FYI, project proposal was quickly dropped because the one test buoy they got permission to deploy didn’t survive long in the conditions. Anyone who has spent time dealing with the harsh conditions of sea water could of told them their idea wasn’t likely to survive. Their generation method was a piston going up and down inside the buoy with magnets mounted to it for a stator and coils wound in the body. Just how long do you think it takes for the ocean to destroy the mechanical motion of the buoy due to fouling? Or, just how long do you think it will take for seawater to penetrate to those coils and corrode them? Better yet, how much will galvanic corrosion be increased when you generate a current on purpose?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for wave energy generation if we can get it to work economically but I’m not holding my breath. I spent many years in the USN as a machinist mate and have seen first hand what seawater does to a ship/components and what steps it takes to slow down/prevent that damage. It can be done but the maintenance cost alone will raise electrical rates through the roof. Similar complaint to what I have for sea floor mounted windmills, I pretty much guarantee the ocean will shorten their life expectancy then the maintenance cost of getting someone out there to maintain them will not be small.

  23. The next 10 years will be a hard test for Europe. Wind and solar will have brought big parts of the European energy system to the brink of collapse. Prices for everything will crash through the ceiling. Europe will be very sick for a long time and when things are bad enough, politicians will greenlight new coal plants and anything that just works in order to tackle the energy crisis. Methane hydrates are still a riddle to be solved. But if we think that hydrogen is a sensible path to the future, Methane Hydrates will look almost cheap and sensible compared to that economic insanity.

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