The Vancouver Sun reported a major success by Japanese geological researchers looking for fuel — in the ice of Canada’s Northwest Territories.
The Japanese team was looking for what’s called “fiery ice;” it’s what happens when gases like methane are trapped, frozen in ice crystals below the permafrost and at the bottom of icy water like in the Arctic Ocean. The Japanese team was able to drill into the permafrost and tap into a well of methane that powered a flame for six days.
“The message is quite clear, you can produce gas hydrates using conventional techniques,” says Scott Dallimore, a senior scientist at Natural Resources Canada, who co-led the project in the Mackenzie Delta. Over two winters the researchers drilled down more than a kilometre into a 150-metre-thick layer on the edge of the Beaufort Sea at Mallik — the most concentrated known deposit of the frozen fuel in the world.
The volatile energy source has traditionally been a nuisance for drilling operations and folks poking around deep water. A decade ago, B.C. fishermen were startled when they dredged up a huge chunk of icebound hydrates off the coast of Vancouver Island. It fizzed like a giant Bromo-Seltzer as it reached the surface and released flammable methane gas.
There are also concerns about its environmental impacts and the possibility of “burps of death” as the planet warms — the fear being some hydrate deposits might melt releasing huge amounts of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — that could then speed up global warming.
This fiery ice, like all manner of natural gas and fossil fuels in general, does produce greenhouse gasses, but if had my druthers, I’d rather have this sort of fossil fuel, which produces fewer toxins, and won’t destroy the Athabasca and other rivers of North Alberta.
The technology, as The Sun notes, is years or decades away, so it won’t be seen anytime soon. You know what would be really good? If we didn’t need those fossil fuels by that point. It’s certainly possible.
And if you think I’m trying to sell you a bridge with that last one, I know a guy who wants to sell you a fan.