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James Stafford

James Stafford

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Gambling on Methane Hydrates: Risk Outpaces Reward - For Now

Everyone’s so excited about Japan’s successful extraction of natural gas from methane hydrates trapped in crystalized formation under the sea floor. The headlines are certainly promising, and we’ve had numerous requests to delve into the subject for our premium subscribers.

I usually like to outline new opportunities, but this time I see more risk than reward: we’ve known about these methane hydrates for a long time; It’s too expensive; the infrastructure requirements are massive; the technology for commercial extraction is too far way; and the environmental impact is a very dangerous unknown. This may be the stuff of the future, but a future that is too distant to attract enough investment outside of countries like Japan, which is desperate enough to make it work and willing to spare no expense to achieve commercial viability. 

Earlier this month, Japan successfully extracted gas from a layer of methane hydrates 1,000 feet below the seabed in the Eastern Nankai Trough. To do this it lowered an excavator to the seafloor about 1,000 meters below the surface where it separated solidified methane hydrated into water and natural gas and then transported the gas up to the surface.

Methane hydrates are crystalized water molecules containing methane, which is the key element in natural gas, and they are prevalent beneath the seafloor and underneath Arctic permafrost. This methane is the result of the action of methanogenic…

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