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Japan Mines `Flammable Ice,’ Flirts With Environmental Disaster

Shigeru Sato, Bloomberg News
Fifty-five million years ago the world’s climate was catastrophically changed when volcanoes melted natural gas frozen in the seabed. Now Japan plans to drill for the same icy crystals to end its reliance on imported energy.

Billions of tons of methane hydrate, frozen chunks of chemical-laced water buried in sediment some 3,000 feet under the Pacific Ocean floor, may help Japan win energy independence from the Middle East and Indonesia. Japanese engineers have found enough “flammable ice” to meet its gas use demands for 14 years. The trick is extracting it without damaging the environment.

Japan is joining the U.S. and Canada in test drilling for methane even as scientists express concerns about any uncontrolled release of the frozen chemical. Some researchers blame the greenhouse gas for triggering a global firestorm that helped wipe out the dinosaurs.
(26 December 2007)
Contributor William Tamblyn sends two quotes from Wikipedia:
Methane clathrates and climate change

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas… The sudden release of large amounts of natural gas from methane clathrate deposits has been hypothesized as a cause of past and possibly future climate changes. Events possibly linked in this way are the Permian-Triassic extinction event, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.

Permian-Triassic extinction event

The Permian-Triassic (P-Tr) extinction event, sometimes informally called the Great Dying, … was the Earth’s most severe extinction event, with up to 96 percent of all marine species and 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrate species becoming extinct. … This event has been described as the “mother of all mass extinctions.”

An end to coal power? Unlikely

James Randerson, The Guardian
Environmentalists want an end to coal-fired power stations but that looks unlikely to happen any time soon. Is capturing and storing their emissions a realistic answer to climate change?

Marx was wrong. The opiate of the masses is not God but energy. And this is its cathedral. A vast, cavernous space in which the rhythmical throb of four immense turbines supply our ever-growing electricity addiction.

The noise is unbearable and the heat uncomfortable. The air is thick with the smell of steam railways. Feeding the turbines is a huge furnace that devours a tonne of coal a day. Inside, it is 1,000C.

I am in the vast turbine hall of Ratcliffe power station, near Loughborough. It celebrated its 40th birthday last year and if environmentalists had their way, ageing coal-fired power stations like it would be firmly part of Britain and the world’s past. As demand for power continues to soar, that looks like a faint hope even with Britain’s promise to cut its emissions by 60% by 2050.
(2 January 2008)

The wrong choice for Massachusetts

James Hansen, Boston Globe
THE EARTH is close to passing climate change “tipping points.” Greenhouse gases released in burning fossil fuels are nearing a level that will set in motion dangerous effects, many irreversible, including extermination of countless species, ice sheet disintegration and sea-level rise, and intensified regional climate extremes.
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As a society we face a stark choice. Move on to the next phase of the industrial revolution, preserving and restoring wonders of the natural world, while maintaining and expanding benefits of advanced technology. Or ignore the problem, sentencing humanity and other creatures to struggle on an increasingly desolate planet. Massachusetts is on the cusp of making this choice, and, barring citizen objections, is in danger of making the wrong choice on two counts.

Energy legislation in the state Senate would reshape rules designed to encourage renewable energies, modifying them to encourage energy generation from coal. A proposed amendment to the “Green Communities Act” – in most respects a good piece of legislation – provides incentives for coal gasification technologies without requiring carbon capture and sequestration. If passed, Massachusetts would be promoting projects that increase greenhouse gas emissions, just when we need to reduce emissions!

Meanwhile, the Department of Environmental Protection granted draft approval and is poised to grant final approval to a project extending the life of an 80-year-old coal plant with coal gasification that would not capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions. Prolonging the life of NRG Energy’s coal-fired power plant in Somerset would be a tragic mistake.
(2 January 2008)