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Short and sweet:
Alaska Fire and Ice

Charles E Hill, Technorati
Natural Gas, often in the form of Methane, is often found when drilling for oil. In the Arctic and deep (sub-300 meter) ocean, this “gas” is frequently found in a solid form called Methane Hydrates. Basically a frozen water/methane mix that looks like ice, but will burn. Until recently, when drilling for oil in the Arctic and hitting these hydrates, they sublimated to gas when the pressure was released or they were brought to the surface and needed to be flared off. Recently BP-Amoco discovered how to bring these frozen fireballs to the surface intact. Samples are being sent to labs around the world for study.

In two areas off North and South Carolina, in the Atlantic, there are an estimated 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas in both hydrate and traditional form. That is 70x more than the entire U.S. consumption in 1989 in just those two areas. While methane is considered 20x more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2, it doesn’t release SOx and NOx when burned and thus is considered much “cleaner”.
Lest we forget, geological studies believe that twice in the distant past abrupt releases of mass quantities of methane from these submarine hydrates cause the worst extinctions this planet has ever seen.

Ever since the discovery of these hydrates one of the big questions has been “can we mine them without triggering a disaster that makes the K-T event look mild by comparison”?
(21 Feb 2007)

Anomalies caused by ancient event

Kevin Howe, Monterey Herald
Global warming is nothing new. It ended the last great ice age 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, and the effects of that warming are still being felt today, according to ocean geologists with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

Geologists Charles Paull and William Ussler spent the late summer and early fall of 2003 aboard a Canadian icebreaker plying the Beaufort Sea off Canada’s north coast to examine a geological anomaly, “pingo-like” objects on the sea floor similar to rounded hill formations called pingos that are found on the surface in the arctic ice.

Their findings, published last month in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters, indicate the objects are being pushed up by methane gas released after long-buried gas hydrates — icelike deposits of methane that occur under extremely cold conditions — began decomposing when the melting polar ice cap caused sea levels to rise and inundate the continental shelves.

Over the ensuing millennia, Paull said, the warmer water — close to freezing but about 20 degrees Celsius warmer than the gas hydrates — sent a heat pulse downward and began thawing the gas. ..
( Jan 2007)
Less factual but also: Global warming’s pingo problem from Salon.

Officials seek key to unlock frozen gas
Slope test well yields ‘gold mine of data’ on huge hydrate deposits

Wesley Loy, Anchorage Daily News
BP teamed with government agencies to drill an exploratory well this month that could help unlock a fabulous new supply of North Slope natural gas. ..

A test well just completed in BP’s Milne Point field, northwest of Prudhoe, yielded much new information that could help lead to commercial production someday, BP and federal geologists and engineers said Monday in Anchorage.

The team drilled a well 3,000 feet deep on a prospect called Mount Elbert, named for the highest peak in Colorado, where one government hydrate expert, Tim Collett of the U.S. Geological Survey, hails from.

The purpose of the well was to run certain tests and to bring hydrate core samples to the surface — something that’s rarely been done anywhere in the world.

A hydrate sample looks like a hunk of sandstone laced with white swirls. Drop it into a bucket of water and it bubbles.

Collett and other scientists were excited by the results from the test well.

“We got a gold mine of data,” said Ray Boswell, methane hydrates technology manager with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

The DOE funded the $4.6 million test well, with BP contributing seismic data, staffing and other support. ..

Because of the extraordinary amounts of hydrate, Congress has taken a big interest in funding research, authorizing more than $200 million in spending since 2000. ..
(20 Feb 2007)
More detailed article North Slope gas hydrate well hits target from Petroleum News.

Japan, Canada to Start Test-Production of Frozen Natural Gas

Shigeru Sato,Bloomberg
Japan’s government said it will start test production of frozen natural gas in Canada’s permafrost area as part of Japan’s 16-year project to siphon gas from methane hydrate, a form of the fuel known as gas crystals.

State-run Japan Oil, Gas, and Metals Corp. and Canada’s natural resources ministry on Feb. 23 drilled a test well inside the Arctic Circle, and plan in March to start extracting gas from the hydrates, an ice-like form of methane trapped in oxygen and hydrogen, the state-controlled company said in a statement.

Japan is accelerating efforts to develop technologies to extract gas from the methane hydrate deposits lying under the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Japan seabed, to break the country’s dependence on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia for its oil and gas supply. ..
(27 Feb 2007)

Thanks to Bill Henderson for all these, as usual it’s ‘too serious to panic’. Hopefully the corporations involved in drilling will release their risk assessments for consideration, else the public liability and government funding of such possibly reckless endeavours need to be reviewed.-LJ