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Trump sneaked in the words “gas hydrate technology” at his World Economic Forum speech this week. Why? What are gas hydrates? I had to look it up.

Look up “gas hydrates” on Google, you get about 7 million returns. That’s nothing. Compare it to “natural gas,” where you get about 4.5 BILLION returns. This is a “new” topic, probably known by Big Oil for a long time but new to us (or me).

Turns out, gas hydrates are natural gas that’s been trapped in ice, usually found under the ocean, glacial ice and permafrost. So this explains the big new interest in offshore drilling being allowed under Trump and Russia’s deep dives. This stuff is found all over the place. There are massive amounts of it all over the world. It’s the next fossil fuel conquest.

Around 6.4 trillion (6.4×1012) tonnes of methane is trapped in deposits of methane clathrate on the deep ocean floor. (Source: Wikipedia, and this 2004 journal article)

Of course, it’s likely to destroy ocean ecosystems, emit more methane into the atmosphere, and we already have no room for more fossil fuels in our carbon budget. These USGS scientists say that melting permafrost and ice due to climate change will not necessarily lead to more of it’s release, but all bets are off the table when we go and start drilling for it.

From the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

Gas hydrates are ice-like crystalline minerals that form when low molecular weight gas (such as methane, ethane, or carbon dioxide) combines with water and freezes into a solid under low temperature and moderate pressure conditions. Most gas hydrates are formed from methane (CH4), which has led to the terms “gas hydrate” and “methane hydrate” often being used interchangeably.

On Earth, gas hydrates occur naturally in some marine sediments and within and beneath permafrost. They are also speculated to form on other planets.

For us, hydrate deposits are important for a variety of reasons:

  • Gas hydrate deposits may contain roughly twice the carbon contained in all reserves of coal, oil, and conventional natural gas combined, making them a potentially valuable energy resource.
  • Their decomposition can release large amounts of methane, which is a greenhouse gas that could impact Earth’s climate.
  • Sudden release of pressurized methane gas may cause submarine landslides, which in turn can trigger tsunamis.
  • Gas hydrates in the ocean can be associated with unusual and possibly unique biological communities that use hydrocarbons or hydrogen sulfide for carbon and energy, via a process known as chemosynthesis.

We still have a lot to learn, but Trump’s statement at the WEF was undoubtedly a signal to his fossil fuel friends. They keep supporting him, he’ll support their next conquest. At least now we know.

Image source: Methane Hydrates and Contemporary Climate Change