fossil fuels

Earth Hour: A Dissent

Reblogged from WUWT

Earth Hour: A Dissent

by Ross McKitrick

Ross McKitrick, Professor of Economics, Univer...

Ross McKitrick, Professor of Economics, University of Guelph, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In 2009 I was asked by a journalist for my thoughts on the importance of Earth Hour.

Here is my response.

I abhor Earth Hour. Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century. Every material social advance in the 20th century depended on the proliferation of inexpensive and reliable electricity.

Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances that free up time from domestic chores. Getting children out of menial labour and into schools depended on the same thing, as well as the ability to provide safe indoor lighting for reading.

Development and provision of modern health care without electricity is absolutely impossible. The expansion of our food supply, and the promotion of hygiene and nutrition, depended on being able to irrigate fields, cook and refrigerate foods, and have a steady indoor supply of hot water.

Many of the world’s poor suffer brutal environmental conditions in their own homes because of the necessity of cooking over indoor fires that burn twigs and dung. This causes local deforestation and the proliferation of smoke- and parasite-related lung diseases.

Anyone who wants to see local conditions improve in the third world should realize the importance of access to cheap electricity from fossil-fuel based power generating stations. After all, that’s how the west developed.

The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity. I cannot do that, instead I celebrate it and all that it has provided for humanity.

Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. By repudiating the greatest engine of liberation it becomes an hour devoted to anti-humanism. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.

People who see virtue in doing without electricity should shut off their fridge, stove, microwave, computer, water heater, lights, TV and all other appliances for a month, not an hour. And pop down to the cardiac unit at the hospital and shut the power off there too.

I don’t want to go back to nature. Travel to a zone hit by earthquakes, floods and hurricanes to see what it’s like to go back to nature. For humans, living in “nature” meant a short life span marked by violence, disease and ignorance. People who work for the end of poverty and relief from disease are fighting against nature. I hope they leave their lights on.

Here in Ontario, through the use of pollution control technology and advanced engineering, our air quality has dramatically improved since the 1960s, despite the expansion of industry and the power supply.

If, after all this, we are going to take the view that the remaining air emissions outweigh all the benefits of electricity, and that we ought to be shamed into sitting in darkness for an hour, like naughty children who have been caught doing something bad, then we are setting up unspoiled nature as an absolute, transcendent ideal that obliterates all other ethical and humane obligations.

No thanks.

I like visiting nature but I don’t want to live there, and I refuse to accept the idea that civilization with all its tradeoffs is something to be ashamed of.

Ross McKitrick
Professor of Economics
University of Guelph

In Defense of Fossil Fuels

This article is a repost of an editorial from  See the original post here.

A recent public letter, “To the Museums of Science and Natural History,” demands that museums in the United States accept no charitable donations from companies involved with fossil fuels. The idea that the world can or should abandon fossil fuels is deeply wrong-headed, not just from a scientific perspective, but also from a humanitarian perspective.

For thousands of years only a small fraction of mankind lived well while the rest faced poverty, filth, hunger and disease. That has all changed over the past century and a half, thanks to the use of fossil fuels. The benefits of low-cost and abundant energy from fossil fuels have permitted a standard of living for most of society that exceeds the wildest dreams of past elites. Today China, India and other developing countries are lifting hundreds of millions of people out of deprivation by the greater use of fossil fuels. Despite these clear benefits, a movement has emerged that demonizes fossil fuels and anyone who questions the dogma that a near-term climate catastrophe is upon us. The letter is a good example of the movement’s tactics.

Nearly everyone today is instinctively an environmentalist. Most recognize that fossil fuels must be extracted responsibly, minimizing environmental damage from mining and drilling operations, and with due consideration of costs and benefits. Similarly, fossil fuels must be used responsibly, deploying technologies that minimize emissions of real pollutants such as fly ash, carbon monoxide, oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds. If fully cleansed of such real pollutants, the exhaust from fossil-fuel combustion contains very nearly the same components, and in comparable proportions to those of a baby’s breath: a little oxygen, nitrogen, water vapor (H20) and carbon dioxide (CO2). So far the movement has not declared water vapor to be a pollutant, but for several decades it has mounted a vigorous, extensive and expensive propaganda campaign to demonize CO2.

Atmospheric CO2 is beneficial and it is not a pollutant. It is, in fact, the most important food for life on Earth. Without CO2 in the atmosphere our planet would be as dead as Mars. At current CO2 levels of about 400 parts per million, the Earth remains in a CO2 famine compared to levels of 1000 parts per million and higher that have prevailed since the Cambrian period, some 550 million years ago. The world has already shown noticeable “greening” because plants are growing better and more extensively due to the modest increases of atmospheric CO2 seen over the past century.

However, the movement has promoted a multitude of scary scenarios associated with CO2, none of which have come to pass. Why doesn’t the letter contain the earlier favored phrase, “global warming?” Most likely because precise satellite measurements have shown there has been no global warming of Earth’s atmosphere for nearly 20 years, in stark contrast to the alarming predictions of the movement and deeply flawed computer models, most of which do not predict catastrophe anyway.

Instead of arguments based on science and facts, the movement labels any who question their dogma as “deniers,” funded, according to the letter, by “climate-change-denying organizations spending over $67 million since 1997 to fund groups denying climate change science.” The hypocrisy is breathtaking. Orders of magnitude more funding has been given by governments and foundations to organizations and individuals charged with “scientifically” proving the alleged evils of CO2 and inventing ways to cope with it. In 2011 alone, ten large foundations donated $577 million to environmental causes, nearly ten times more than the total funding since 1997 to the so-called “deniers.” And that does not count tens of billions of dollars from the government and other foundations. Apparently the movement’s scientific case is so weak that they feel threatened by any research that does not support their doctrine.

We applaud support for informative studies of the climate, for example, ocean monitoring programs, satellite instruments, or meteorological networks with high-quality data archives. This work needs no defense from scientific challenges, regardless of the source of funding. The honest scientists responsible for much of this excellent work cannot be blamed for the excesses of the anti-fossil fuel movement. But the signers of the letter include some of the biggest feeders at the climate trough, who benefit from millions of dollars of funding every year for research empires, which, in many cases, stoke a propaganda mill instead of producing real science. In the interests of transparency and intellectual integrity, the signatories of the “To the Museums” letter should have each revealed their annual and cumulative climate funding.

The criterion for valid science has been succinctly stated by physics Nobel Laureate, Richard Feynman: “If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make a difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t make a difference how smart you are, who made the guess or what his name is, if it disagrees with experiment it’s wrong.” Experiments-observations-do not support the movement’s alarming scenarios.

We, the undersigned, urge museum managements to reject the exceptionally bad and misguided advice in the letter. Abandoning fossil fuels, aside from the economic impossibility of that proposition, would not help the environment but would likely harm it, and would be profoundly anti-human and immoral. Without the benefits of low-cost and abundant energy from fossil fuels, much of the world’s poor today and in the future would be condemned to continued poverty, ignorance and exploitation.

Click here to view a pdf file of the signatories of this letter.

American Energy Renaissance Act

Development of energy resources in the United States is subject to many impediments from the federal government. To help remedy this situation, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-OK-1 have introduced the American Energy Renaissance Act which they say will “create good-paying American jobs, spur economic growth and expand opportunity.”

Since I have seen nothing about this in the Arizona Daily Star, I will reproduce the major elements of the act from a press release from Senator Cruz for Tucson readers. The Act proposes the following:

Leave regulation of hydraulic fracturing in state hands. Hydraulic fracturing is driving the American Energy Renaissance. States have proven they can oversee hydraulic fracturing in a responsible, safe manner, and they should be allowed to continue. The American Energy Renaissance cannot thrive if the federal government disrupts this effective framework and impedes the jobs and economic growth hydraulic fracturing is already providing.

Streamline the permitting process for upgrading existing and building new refineries. The operating capacity of U.S. refineries has remained essentially stagnant for three decades. In order for the American Energy Renaissance to reach its full potential, barriers must be removed from expanding or constructing new refineries in the United States and the private sector jobs they will create.

Phase out and repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) over five years. The RFS has proven unworkable and costly. Its mandate that an increasing percentage of renewable biofuels be blended into gasoline and diesel each year ignores the reality there are insufficient amounts of some biofuels to meet the standard. It imposes significant costs, and offers few, if any, benefits. The RFS should be phased out so producers and refiners can focus on maximizing domestic resource potential.

Immediately approve and allow the private sector to build the Keystone pipeline. According to the U.S. State Department, constructing the Keystone XL pipeline could result in 42,000 jobs. Keystone has undergone five environmental reviews since its initial application in 2008, and none has found a significant negative impact on the environment. President Obama’s former Energy Secretary admitted that the decision as whether to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline is a political one, and not a decision founded in science.

Exclude greenhouse gases from regulation by the EPA and other federal agencies. Proposals to regulate greenhouse gases are very expensive and threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs. The authority to regulate such gases should only occur with explicit authority from Congress.

Stop certain EPA regulations that will adversely impact coal and electric power plants. In 2008, President Obama promised to bankrupt coal. As of October 2014, there were already 381 coal units closed or closing in 36 states because of EPA policies. These 381 closures amount to a total of more than 60,100 megawatts of electricity generation no longer being available. Job losses as a result of coal units being affected by EPA regulations could amount to more than 50,000 direct jobs in the coal, utility, and rail industries, and an indirect job loss figure exceeding 250,000.

Require Congress to approve and the President to sign EPA regulations that will have a negative job impact, rather than allowing them to hide behind bureaucrats who are assumed to be responsible for them now. Certain planned and proposed EPA regulations could cost more than 2 million jobs. Increasing regulatory restrictions more broadly could cost nearly 2.8 million jobs over the next decade.

Expand energy development on federal lands by providing states the option of leasing, permitting and regulating energy resources (oil and gas, wind and solar) on federal lands within their borders. Onshore and offshore federal land lands have about 43 percent of America’s proven oil reserves and 25 percent of natural gas reserves, but not all of the land is available for energy development. Leasing and producing oil and natural gas on federal land could create more than 1 million jobs.

For those states opting not to self-regulate, federal leasing, permitting, and regulating must be reformed by:
Streamlining permitting and expanding development on federal lands by requiring decisions regarding drilling permit applications to be made within 30 days (which can be extended), requiring an explanation for any denial, and deeming applications to be approved if no decision has been made within 60 days, unless there are existing incomplete environmental reviews.
Improving certainty in the leasing and development process by instituting a presumption that certain land will be leased and by prohibiting the government from withdrawing a lease for any energy project, unless there is a violation of terms of the lease.

Expand energy development in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and on Indian Lands. The mean estimate for conventional oil in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska is 895 million barrels of oil and 52.8 trillion cubic feet of gas. West of the Mississippi River, Indian reservations contain almost 30 percent of the nation’s coal reserves, 50 percent of potential uranium reserves, and 20 percent of known oil and gas reserves.

Open up the Coastal Plain of Alaska (ANWR) for development. ANWR consists of 19 million acres in northeast Alaska. Its 1.5-million-acre Coastal Plain is viewed as a promising onshore oil prospect with potentially 7 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil.

Expand the offshore areas of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) available for development. Despite the potential for significant oil and gas development off the coasts of the United States, the Obama Administration has severely limited access to such resources by essentially prohibiting energy exploration and development off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Streamline the permitting process for additional offshore exploration. Regulatory barriers to obtain leases and permits to explore and develop offshore areas of the Outer Continental Shelf should be removed by requiring lease sales within 180 days of enactment of the legislation and every 270 days thereafter, and requiring approval or disapproval of drilling permits no later than 20 days after an application is submitted.

Expand LNG exports by facilitating permits. As of March 3, 2015, the Dept. of Energy had approved only nine export permits to non-Free Trade Agreement countries. More than twenty applications are currently pending.

End the crude oil export ban. Last year, U.S. crude oil production increased 27 percent but many American refineries cannot handle the additional crude for technical and capacity reasons. The United States is missing out on export opportunities that could produce good paying private sector jobs in the United States.

Prevent excessively broad environmental review of coal export terminals. As the EPA makes it harder to use coal as a source of energy for electricity in the United States, there are opportunities to export coal to other nations. Removing excessive environmental reviews can help promote coal exports that will help keep coal jobs in the United States.

Direct all additional revenues generated by exploration and drilling on federal lands (excluding the share allocated to the states) exclusively to national debt reduction. The U.S. national debt was approximately $18.2 trillion in December 2014. As we free the development of U.S. natural resources to spur economic and job growth, we should prevent revenues from being used to further expand government programs and instead use it to free taxpayers from the debt burden that hampers the nation’s incredible potential.

That is the crux of the bill. Read the entire bill here.

Of course, these sensible provisions are very contrary to Obama policy and the orthodoxy of radical environmentalists. It will be interesting to see if this bill gets anywhere.

See also:

How President Obama has increased our energy costs

Obama Clueless on Energy – Part 2

Obama Clueless on Energy – Part 1

Obama says Drill Baby Drill

Obama administration still clueless on energy

Obama, the Keystone Cop-out

Obama’s Climate Action Plan is Clueless and Dangerous

Obama’s April Fools Joke

Evidence that CO2 emissions do not intensify the greenhouse effect

The U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment report and the UN IPCC both claim that human carbon dioxide emissions are “intensifying” the greenhouse effect and causing global warming. Let’s review claims relative to observed data.

We begin with a very simplified review of what the greenhouse effect is. Solar radiation, mostly short-wave radiation, passes through the atmosphere and warms the surface. In turn, the heated surface re-radiates energy as long-wave infrared radiation back to the atmosphere and eventually, back to space.

Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere intercept some of the long-wave infrared radiation and transfer some of the energy to excite other molecules in the atmosphere, some of the radiation goes back to the surface (this is called down-welling infrared radiation), and some of the radiation is radiated into space (this is called out-going long-wave radiation).

The carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has been increasing due in part to emissions from burning fossil fuels. This increased amount of CO2 should “intensify” the greenhouse effect and cause global warming according to the National Climate Assessment and the IPCC. So, what phenomena should we observe from an “intensified” greenhouse effect?

With an “intensified” greenhouse effect, we should see a decrease in out-going long-wave infrared radiation into space. We should see warming of the atmosphere (the troposphere), a “hot spot” especially over the tropics. We should see more down-welling infrared radiation that further warms the surface. That’s the essence of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hypothesis. But, real-world measurements show we are seeing none of those effects.

According to satellite data compiled by NOAA, out-going long-wave radiation into space has not been decreasing but, in fact, slightly increasing (source).

Outgoing radiation vs temp NOAA

Balloon-borne radiosondes and two separate satellite systems measure the temperature of the troposphere. None of these systems detect the model-predicted warming spot in the troposphere. [Source: Douglass, D.H. et al. 2007, A comparison of tropical temperature trends with model predictions, International Journal of Climatology DOI:10.1002/joc.1651].

Douglas temp model vs observations

Finally, an independent study, published in the Journal of Climate, based on 800,000 observations, find there has been a significant decrease in down-welling, long-wave infrared radiation from increasing greenhouse gases over the 14 year period 1996-2010 in the US Great Plains. CO2 levels increased about 7% over this period and according to AGW theory, down-welling long-wave infra-red radiation should have increased over this period with buildup of carbon dioxide.

There is one more failed AGW prediction: CO2 is supposed to start warming which evaporates water, a stronger greenhouse gas that will enhance warming.  That should increase global humidity, but measurements show that global humidity is not increasing.


Empirical data show that the AGW hypothesis fails on four major predictions. This indicates that our carbon dioxide emissions have little to no effect on global temperature nor the intensity of the “greenhouse effect” possibly because the AGW hypothesis ignores convective heat loss (weather) and other natural cycles that control the complex climate system.

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is; it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.” – Richard Feynmann

Feynmann’s admonition is demonstrated by comparing global atmospheric temperatures predicted by models (based on their false assumptions) with real world observations.

Temp models vs observation christy

Only about 3% of CO2 in atmosphere due to burning fossil fuels



[See update below]

A new post on The Hockey Schtick reviews a new paper “that finds only about 3.75% [15 ppm] of the CO2 in the lower atmosphere is man-made from the burning of fossil fuels, and thus, the vast remainder of the 400 ppm atmospheric CO2 is from land-use changes and natural sources such as ocean outgassing and plant respiration.”

The contention made by HockeySchtick seems to be supported by old table from the Energy Information Administration which shows the same thing: only about 3% of atmospheric carbon dioxide is attributable to human sources.  The numbers are from IPCC data.
Look at the table and do the arithmetic: 23,100/793,100 = 0.029.
URL for table:

Global CO2 emissions EIA IPCC

If one wanted to make fun of the alleged consensus of “climate scientists”, one could say that 97% of carbon dioxide molecules agree that global warming results from natural causes.

[UPDATE: Since I first made this post, Hockey Schtick has taken down their post due to pressure from the referenced paper’s authors. However, the chart shown above is still valid and supports the claim that only 3% of atmospheric CO2 comes from human sources. HockeySchtick will repost once it gets some answers from the author. Meanwhile, my post was submitted to and published by Anthony Watts’ WUWT blog and has received many comments. I apparently made the same mistake as on the Hockey Schtick: I took what the original paper’s author wrote, to be was she meant. There appears to be some misunderstanding between atmospheric concentration of CO2 and flux of sources and sinks for CO2. The WUWT article is here:]





Obama Crony Capitalism and Green Tech Failures

As part of President Obama’s “war on coal” and fossil fuels in general, his administration has provided more than $100 billion to so called “green tech” or “clean tech” companies, most of which have gone bankrupt or somehow “disappeared” the money.

CBS 60 Minutes aired a show on January 5, 2014 exploring part of this issue (see video and transcript here).  “Hoping to create innovation and jobs, he [Obama] committed north of a $100 billion in loans, grants and tax breaks to Cleantech.  But instead of breakthroughs, the sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops. Suddenly Cleantech was a dirty word.” Up to now, CBS 60 Minutes has been in the climate alarmist camp.  But with this report they are regarded by alarmist media as having “turned” and that media are attacking CBS (see here).

China is snapping up some of these failed companies.  CBS notes that the Chinese auto parts company Wanxiang has bought up 27 plants in 13 states with some 6,000 American workers.  Most of these failed companies made batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles. A company spokesman says that every third car made in the U.S. now has Wanxiang parts.”  Made in America takes on a new meaning under Obama.

On January 6, 2014, Fox News’ Kelly File program took up the story and added some things that CBS left out (see video here).  According to Fox News, of the approximately $100 billion that the Obama gave to green tech companies, 80 percent went to donors to Obama’s campaign and to other Democrats.  For every dollar those fund-raisers gave, they made back $25,000.  Such a deal.

Back in October, 2012, the Heritage Foundation provided a list of 34 companies that received government subsidies or loan guarantees, but had gone bankrupt or are laying off workers and heading for bankruptcy (see article here).  Heritage opines, “The government’s picking winners and losers in the energy market has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and the rate of failure, cronyism, and corruption at the companies receiving the subsidies is substantial.”

The money wasted on “green energy” could have been better spent on other things such as finding a cure for cancer.  Or the government could have saved us all money by not spending it at all.  The real question is “where did all that money go?” Is it parked in some off-shore bank accounts?

See also (links  update):

Your tax dollars at work and play

The hypocrisy of Obama’s energy boasts

Obama’s Climate Action Plan is Clueless and Dangerous

Geothermic Fuel Cells may make vast oil shale resources economically recoverable

The Colorado School of Mines has announced receipt of the world’s first geothermic fuel cell to test for extraction of oil from oil shale in an economic and environmentally responsible manner.  If the technology works, it could make available an estimated worldwide resource of 4.8 trillion barrels of oil, much of which, 2.6 trillion barrels, is in the United States.

Before proceeding, let’s clear up some terminology, the difference between oil shale and shale oil.

The term “shale oil” (and “shale gas”) refers to liquid crude oil and gas trapped in pores and fractures in rock. This resource can be directly pumped from wells. The recent revolution in “fracking” is all about shale oil.

As described by the Department of the Interior:

The term “oil shale” generally refers to any sedimentary rock that contains solid bituminous materials (called kerogen) that are released as petroleum-like liquids when the rock is heated in the chemical process of pyrolysis. Oil shale was formed millions of years ago by deposition of silt and organic debris on lake beds and sea bottoms. Over long periods of time, heat and pressure transformed the materials into oil shale in a process similar to the process that forms oil; however, the heat and pressure were not as great. Oil shale generally contains enough oil that it will burn without any additional processing, and it is known as “the rock that burns”.

Oil shale can be mined and processed to generate oil similar to oil pumped from conventional oil wells; however, extracting oil from oil shale is more complex than conventional oil recovery and currently is more expensive. The oil substances in oil shale are solid and cannot be pumped directly out of the ground. The oil shale must first be mined and then heated to a high temperature (a process called retorting); the resultant liquid must then be separated and collected. An alternative but currently experimental process referred to as in situ retorting involves heating the oil shale while it is still underground, and then pumping the resulting liquid to the surface.

That’s were the geothermic fuel cell comes in.  The unit being tested at the Colorado School of Mines was built by  Delphi, headquartered in Rochester, NY, for IEP Technology, of Parker, Colorado.  The unit is described in detail by IEP here.

The idea is to place these fuel cells in wells where they will produce crude oil and natural gas to be collected by surrounding recovery wells.  A portion of the oil and gas produced is returned to power the fuel cell.


“After an initial warm up period in which the cells are fueled with an external source of fuel, the GFC self-fuels from gases created by its own waste heat. This self-fueling system, in steady-state operation, produces oil, electricity and surplus natural gases. The result is a geothermic heater that is designed to produce a Net Energy Ratio (NER) of approximately 7.0 (i.e., 7 units of energy produced for every unit used). The net energy ratio of GFCs will increase to approximately 18.0 when primary recovery is combined with residual char gasification and resulting synthesis gas.”

The map below shows the location of the main oil shale resources of the United States.


Global temperature continues divergence from model predictions

Dr. Roy Spencer presents the latest measurements of lower troposphere temperature as measured by two sets of satellites. See his post here. He presents a graph showing measured temperatures versus model predictions.


You can see that actual global temperatures have flattened out since about 1998. The “spaghetti” on the graph represents predictions of 44 models and the black line is the average of model predictions.

Spencer presents three possible explanations for the divergence:

“1) the real climate system is not as sensitive to increasing CO2 as the models are programmed to be.” (His preferred explanation).

“2) the extra surface heating from more CO2 has been diluted more than expected by increased mixing with cooler, deeper ocean waters (Trenberth’s explanation)”

The oceans have a high heat capacity and can absorb great quantities of heat. But have they? The subject is controversial. Anthony Watts discusses the problem here. He notes a recent study which says that between 1955 and 2010, the temperature of the global ocean, between the surface and a depth of 2,000 meters increased in temperature by 0.09 C. That’s not much and Watts wonders if we can even measure to that precision.

“3) increased manmade aerosol pollution is causing a cooling influence, partly mitigating the manmade CO2 warming.”

However, a 2007 satellite-based NASA study shows that aerosols have been decreasing steadily since 1992. In particular, sulfate aerosols have been greatly decreasing since establishment of the 1970 Clean Air Act in the U.S. and similar measures in Europe.

Explanations #2 and #3 seem to have problems. That leaves #1: the climate is not very sensitive to carbon dioxide and is much less sensitive than models assume. The forcing effect of carbon dioxide, if any, is apparently easily overcome by stronger natural forces.

If Spencer’s first explanation is correct, the political war on fossil fuel emissions is futile and will have little or no effect on global temperatures, but that war will cost us dearly by raising energy prices and making our electric grid less reliable.

See also:

Global warming theory fails again

Failure of the Anthropogenic Global Warming Hypothesis

Methane hydrates could fuel the world

Methane hydrate is a solid substance in which methane (natural gas) is trapped in the crystal structure of ice. Methane hydrate occurs in marine sediments and crops out on the ocean floor where the pressure is sufficiently high and the temperature is sufficiently low. Technically, methane hydrate is called a clathrate which means that water molecules freeze into a lattice-like structure capable of trapping gas inside. These compounds can also occur in permafrost. The methane is produced from microbial decomposition of plankton which sinks to the ocean floor. See a short explanation from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) here. See also an article at here. The map below shows the estimated global distribution of methane hydrates.


Estimates of the total resource vary widely. Gas units are often given in units of one trillion cubic feet (TCF). The USGS says that resources estimates from studies over the last 15 years vary from one million- to fifty million TCF of natural gas. The lower estimate is more than 4,000 times the annual US consumption of natural gas. The lower estimate is also at least twice as much as all other fossil fuels combined.

The big question now is: can these resources be technically and economically recovered?

Last year, the Department of Energy partnering with ConocoPhillips and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. produced a steady flow of natural gas in the first field test of the new method that injects carbon dioxide into Alaskan permafrost. The carbon dioxide replaces the methane in the clathrate structure.

Last month, Japan became the first country to extract natural gas from methane hydrates in the sea bed. (See story in The Asahi Shimbun here.) According to that story, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. was able to extract natural gas from a layer 330 meters below a 1,000-meter-deep floor of the Pacific Ocean. Water was pumped out of the methane hydrate sediment layer causing a drop in pressure which liberated the gas. Methane was collected by pipes. The Japanese government plans to establish production technology by fiscal 2018 and then begin production. “The seas around Japan are estimated to hold enough methane hydrate to produce as much natural gas as Japan consumes in 100 years.”

This is still emerging technology that could hold great promise, similar to the vast new resources made recoverable by the “fracking” revolution in shale oil and gas.

See also:

Geologic History: PETM when it really got hot

Methane hydrates probably played a part in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) which was a global temperature spike that happened about 55 million years ago.

Does alternative energy actually replace fossil fuel consumption?

It is the stated policy of the federal government, and some state governments, to replace use of fossil fuels with alternative energy, especially in the production of electricity. The stated rationale for this policy is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and lessen our dependency on imported fossil fuels. Several states (including Arizona) have laws which mandate that a certain (increasing) percentage of electricity be produced with the usually much more expensive alternative energy sources such as solar and wind generation. How well is that working?

A study published earlier this year asked: “Do alternative energy sources displace fossil fuels?” The answer is “not much.”

Richard York of the University of Oregon studied the use of alternative energy in 130 countries to assess the contribution of various forms of non-fossil fuels. The study showed “that the average pattern across most nations of the world over the past fifty years is one where each unit of total national energy use from non-fossil-fuel sources displaced less than one-quarter of a unit of fossil-fuel energy use and, focusing specifically on electricity, each unit of electricity generated by non-fossil-fuel sources displaced less than one-tenth of a unit of fossil-fuel-generated electricity.”

Nuclear and hydro generation were the best of the alternatives to fossil fuels. Each kilowatt-hour (kwh) of nuclear generation of electricity displaced about 0.2 kwh of fossil fuel generation; hydro displaced about 0.1 kwh. Wind and solar generation did not displace any fossil fuel generation.

There are two reasons for that last result. First, wind and solar generation, while increasing, still represent a very small part of the generation capacity compared to consumption. But the main reason for lack of impact of solar and wind generation is that they are unreliable, intermittent sources that require backup generation, and that is usually by fossil fuels. Furthermore, because the fossil fuel backup generation must be on-call, it cannot run efficiently and therefore it actually uses more fuel than it would had it been the primary source. And incidentally, the backup generation also produces more carbon dioxide emissions than it would have had it been run efficiently as primary generation.

York concludes: “These results challenge conventional thinking in that they indicate that suppressing the use of fossil fuel will require changes other than simply technical ones such as expanding non-fossil-fuel energy production.”

See also:

The scale problem for solar and wind generation of electricity

Renewable energy mandates raise electricity costs

Renewables receive bulk of tax preference subsidies

Electricity generated by wind power may raise temperatures and costs

Wind farms raise local and regional temperatures

Blowing in the Wind, a look at green jobs

EIA says Clean Energy program will increase electricity costs 29%