Methane Hydrates Could Be Next Big Energy Source; Enviros Concerned

Methane hydrates deep under the ocean floor and the Alaskan permafrost may represent the world’s next big energy source, if they can be extracted safely. Some 10 trillion tons of carbon are trapped in the strange ice-like compounds, which form when flammable methane gas is subjected to cold, high-pressure conditions. When perturbed, they can explode violently or release massive amounts of methane — a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide — into the atmosphere. Currently, extracting and processing them is six times more expensive than traditional oil and gas drilling, but the U.S. Department of Energy is funneling money into technological advancements that could make it cheaper. This has environmentalists worried. Scientist Jeremy Leggett says, “Thinking of burning methane hydrates is like opening a Pandora’s box knowing a murderous and quite probably genocidal genie lurks within it.”