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On The Cusp of Another Energy Revolution?

At Via Meadia, we’ve been closely following the burgeoning energy revolution in shale gas and oil. Owing to the fact of ongoing research in extraction methods finally coming to fruition, the U.S. was already headed toward full energy independence, with profound implications for both its foreign and domestic policies.

It turns out that this was only the tip of the iceberg. Huge methane deposits not only in the Arctic but all along U.S. coastlines portend centuries of abundant energy.

In April, the Department of Energy announced (h/t Forbes) the completion of a field test for the extraction of methane gas from “methane hydrates”:

Methane hydrates are 3D ice-lattice structures with natural gas locked inside, and are found both onshore and offshore – including under the Arctic permafrost and in ocean sediments along nearly every continental shelf in the world.  The substance looks remarkably like white ice, but it does not behave like ice.  When methane hydrate is “melted,” or exposed to pressure and temperature conditions outside those where it is stable, the solid crystalline lattice turns to liquid water, and the enclosed methane molecules are released as gas.

A DoE press release goes on to caution that this is still a technology in its infancy:

Building on this initial, small-scale test, the Department is launching a new research effort to conduct a long-term production test in the Arctic.  We’re also making $6.5 million available for research into technologies to locate, characterize, and safely extract methane hydrates on a larger scale in the U.S.  And as part of the President’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013, the Department is requesting an additional $5 million to further gas hydrates research.

While our efforts may take years to accomplish, the same could be said of the early shale gas research and technology demonstration efforts that the Department backed in the 1970s and 1980s.  Although the results weren’t immediate, the impact is clear today: increased natural gas production, new jobs, and improved national security.

Indeed. And the implications for “green energy” couldn’t be starker. If this research pans out, it’s hard to imagine solar and wind providing price-competitive solutions in the face of this kind of abundance. 

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