RIGHT: This spinning methane molecule ...
See "Animations... " in the bibliography) Animations for Petroleum Systems: 36 Short MPEG Movies, Howell, David G., et al. U.S. Geological Survey, 1999.
In the real world, experts assure us it's a bit more complicated. They say three methods might be used, either alone or in combination.
Dillon of the USGS told us that cost and other limitations indicate that depressurization is likely to be the first method tested in the field. But melting could cause chaos, he adds: "If you destabilize gas around the drill pipe, you could have a collapse or a landslide," he says. "You are softening up the ground down under."
The problem is twofold: liberating the gas increases pressure, and melting weakens the hydrates. The result could be topsy-turvy drilling rigs - a painful prospect given their hefty price tags.
Getting the stuff out of the ground will be a real challenge, says Sassen of Texas A&M. Existing methods, he says, may work on "a little test case in Alaska or Japan, but if you got something a mile across, or 10 or a thousand miles across, you've got a completely different infrastructure to think about."
gassed up and nowhere to go?
Furthermore, he adds, the hydrocarbon layers are too shallow to emulate present-day oil drillers by branching out from a single well horizontally from it.
Sassen says the energy industry, fueled by Wall Street's demand for immediate profits, prefers dealing with mother lodes - what the oil patch calls "elephants." In gas hydrate, he says, "Where you do see elephants, focused and localized masses that are really thick, is in the Gulf of Mexico."
And that, he says, is where the first serious exploitation of gas hydrates is likely to occur.
Methane is a hefty greenhouse gas. Should we worry?
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