Sea-level rise triggered by global warming could spark a release of gas hydrate, triggering more global warming due to methane's ability to trap reflected heat in the atmosphere.
U.S. Geological Survey
under the collar
other greenhouse gas
The picture is incomplete without considering the ongoing natural releases of methane from Earth about which little is known. Published estimates of the annual releases range from 1011 to 1014 grams, a thousand-fold range of error.
In fact, the real total is probably far higher, says Sassen, since the estimates are based on bacterial methane, not methane associated with petroleum. Worse, the estimates ignore the continental margins, where gas hydrate is found, because "production there is so uneven that the numbers get thrown out."
Nonetheless, at the rail of a ship above a gas vent in the Gulf of Mexico, it's obvious that a lot of gas is being released. "You can see the bubbles coming up," says Sassen.
Because this natural methane could be playing an unrecognized part in today's warming, more research into the source and transport of gas hydrates could fill in the picture of climatic change.
That's just as well, since fossil fuels don't last forever. On the continental shelf in the Gulf of Mexico, Sassen notes, "We started drilling in 1946, and in 1999, all of a sudden, more gas and oil is being produced in the continental slope in deep water than on the shelf. So we blew away the main, easy-to-find resource in the Gulf in 48 years. You can exploit and destroy an oil basin in just a few decades."
Yet Sassen sees a silver lining as rising prices pinch a nation addicted to cheap energy. "I think this little blip in price is reasonable and necessary. It will bring people closer to understanding what the real value of energy is."
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